Crews cover partially-collapsed tunnel at nuclear site

This image provided by the U.S. Department of Energy shows a 20-foot by 20-foot hole in the roof of a storage tunnel at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Wash., Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

A tunnel near the site contains several rail cars that have been temporarily buried because they were used to transport irradiated fuel rods and remain contaminated.

The president's budget outlined in March did contain an increase in energy department funds for cleanup of USA nuclear waste sites.

Hanford officials report there was no spread of contamination after the partial collapse or during the emergency response work on May 10 to fill the hole with earth.

Hanford contractor Washington River Protection Solutions said the worker was pulling a robotic device out of the space between the double walls of Tank AZ-101 when the incident happened.

The tarp is meant to serve two purposes: Protect the environment and workers if further collapse happens, and keep rainwater out of the 8 feet of soil above the tunnel lightening the load.

Over the weekend, CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company crews placed the cover over the tunnel and secured it on the sides with heavy concrete blocks.

In the next few days, workers will string cables across the cover to hold it down even more. No action was required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties, the U.S. Department of Energy said in an advisory.

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The anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear said the incident helped show "radioactive waste management is out of control".

The Hanford site was built during World War II and made plutonium for most of the United States of America nuclear arsenal, including the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of the war.

The tunnel that caved in, known as Tunnel 1, is one of two train tunnels that were built to service the PUREX plant-a factory that processed plutonium for use in atomic bombs during the Cold War. The report concluded if the tunnels collapsed, from an quake or another natural cause, it could pose a risk to workers because of the highly contaminated railcars stored inside.

Nor was there any danger to communities outside the sprawling 580 square-mile site on the Columbia River, officials said. The cleanup is expected to cost more than $100 billion dollars by the time it is completed in 2060.

The most unsafe waste at Hanford is 56 million gallons (212 million liters) stored in 177 underground tanks, some of which have leaked.

  • Carolyn Briggs