Tunnel collapse renews safety concerns about nuclear sites
- Author: Zachary Reyes May 11, 2017,
May 11, 2017, 21:30
Thousands of workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation were told to stay home Wednesday as efforts began to plug a hole that developed in the partial collapse of a tunnel containing unsafe radioactive waste from the building of nuclear bomb materials.
The state of Washington is taking legal action against the US government after a tunnel full of mixed radioactive and chemical waste collapsed at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the state Department of Ecology said Wednesday. He says the next step is to reduce risks at the aging tunnel.
The tunnels were constructed of wood and concrete covered with soil about eight feet deep.
Several thousand workers were ordered to take shelter, a lot of them for several hours, during the incident.
The tunnel that collapsed is one of two built in the 1950s and 1960s.
Workers near the site were evacuated and hundreds of others farther away were told to remain indoors for several hours, the federal agency said.
Non-essential workers who live north of the site's Wye Barricade entrance were asked to stay home Wednesday.
Thousands of workers at Hanford were told to stay home Wednesday as efforts began to plug the sinkhole in the earth over the unoccupied storage tunnel. The concern was that if the roof of the tunnel collapsed it could release long-trapped contaminated material into the air.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently called it "one of the most polluted sites that we have in this country". "Ensuring the safety of the workers and the community is the top priority". This includes 56 million gallons of radioactive waste stored in 177 underground tanks, some of which have leaked.
When workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington state suddenly found a hole in the ground on Tuesday morning, there was cause for concern.
As of 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the Department of Energy was still reporting that no employees were injured and that no contamination was detected because of the collapse.
"I am extremely concerned about what happened yesterday, and how the Department of Energy can give us confidence that this will not happen again", Gov. Inslee said during a press briefing Wednesday. Experts say that exposure to plutonium and uranium, another radioactive element that may be present in risky levels in the tunnel, can be deadly to humans and animals.
Ed Bricker worked at the facility for years as a nuclear operator and technician, then as a health physicist with the State of Washington.
Broadcastify provided the following audio from an emergency dispatch shortly after the incident: "Dirt collapsed into the tunnel".
A holdover from the Manhattan Project, the Hanford site is the largest repository of nuclear waste in the United States. Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington, D.C., contributed to this story. If you would like to discuss another topic, look for a relevant article.
"We don't know exactly how the soil caved in, it's too early", Heeter said.