AuthorTopic: Tunnel appears to collapse at Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state  (Read 235 times)

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What does it mean to "appear to collapse"? ???  :icon_scratch:  Is that like "appeared to explode"?


Tunnel appears to collapse at Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state
By Lindsey Bever and Steven Mufson May 9 at 3:05 PM

A sign informs visitors of prohibited items on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Wash. An emergency has been declared Tuesday, May 9, 2017, at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Hundreds of workers at the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state have been ordered to “take cover” after a portion of a tunnel contaminated with radioactive materials appeared to collapse.

The U.S. Department of Energy said it activated its emergency operations protocol after reports of a “cave-in” at the 200 East Area in Hanford, a sprawling complex about 200 miles from Seattle where the government has been working to clean up radioactive materials left over from the country’s nuclear weapons program.

The Energy Department said in a statement that officials were “responding to reports of a cave-in of a 20 foot section of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long that is used to store contaminated materials.” The tunnel is next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX.

Officials said that there was “no indication of a release of contamination at this point” but that emergency crews were still testing the area for contamination.

Cleaning up radioactive materials at the Hanford site, which is a federal facility, has been one of the Energy Department’s priorities for years. Reactors located at Hanford produced plutonium for America’s nuclear weapons program. Plutonium production ended in 1980 and the cleanup program began in 1989.

Former Energy Department official Robert Alvarez said that the rail cars carry spent fuel from a reactor area along the river to the chemical processing facility, which then extracts dangerous plutonium and uranium. He said the plant lies near the middle of the sprawling 580-square mile Hanford site and was “a very high hazard operation.” Many contaminated pieces of equipment, including the rail cars, have been left in the tunnels, he said.

Officials said responders on the scene Tuesday reported that the soil had “subsided” in an area about 20 feet by 20 feet where two tunnels join next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility.

It was discovered during a “routine surveillance,” according to the Energy Department.

Workers near the PUREX facility were told to shelter in-place and access to the area was restricted, according to the Energy Department statement.

The two tunnels are each hundreds of feet long and buried beneath about eight feet of soil, according to the Energy Department, which added that “the depth of the subsidence of soil appears to be into the tunnel.”

Alvarez, a former Energy Department official, cited a 1997 report, which said that the tunnel was 109.1 meters long, 6.7 meters high and 5.9 meters wide. First constructed decades ago, the walls of the older tunnel are 14 inches thick and held up by pressure-treated Douglas fir timbers arranged side by side, the report said. They rest on reinforced concrete footings.

An unnamed source told NBC affiliate KING workers may have created a vibration that caused a nearby tunnel filled with highly contaminated material to collapse.

Although the Trump administration has vowed to slash the budgets of most Energy Department programs, the administration does not plan to skimp on the department’s program charged with the Hanford cleanup and with other nuclear sites.It has requested $6.5 billion for agency’s environmental management program for 2018.

The budget for Hanford alone is about $2.3 billion in the current fiscal year, about $1.5 billion of that going to the management and treatment of approximately 56 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste currently stored in underground storage tanks.

Trump has been slow to fill science related positions, and he has not yet named a new assistant secretary for environmental management. It is currently being headed by a career department employee serving in an acting capacity.

During his recent confirmation hearing, Energy Secretary Rick Perry was asked by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) about the Hanford site.

“So are you committed to funding Hanford cleanup and what it takes and getting the waste treatment plant finished?” Cantwell asked.

“Senator, I’m committed to working with you and prioritizing what is one of the most dangerous, most polluted sites that we have in this country,” Perry replied. He vowed to visit Hanford and said he looked forward to “walking that site with you.”

Chris Mooney has contributed to this article.

Offline Eddie

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Send Rick Perry into the hole and let him do a personal inspection tour.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

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