Hundreds of workers at the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state have been ordered to “take cover” after a tunnel collapse, reports The Washington Post.
The U.S. Department of Energy said it has activated its emergency operations protocol in Hanford, Washington, about 200 miles from Seattle. It came after an alert at the 200 East Area, which is home to numerous solid waste sites.
Energy Department officials in Hanford said in a statement, “There are concerns about subsidence in the soil covering railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing facility. The tunnels contain contaminated materials.”
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Former Energy Department official Bob 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 Hanford site and was “a very high hazard operation.”
Workers were told to evacuate and, “as a precaution, workers in potentially affected areas of the Hanford Site have gone indoors,” according to the statement. “Access to the 200 East Area of the Hanford Site, which is located in the center of the Hanford Site, has been restricted to protect employees.”
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.
Via Fox News
The tunnel part of a plutonium uranium extraction plant.
"I would underscore this is confined to a small area of the Hanford site," Destry Henderson, deputy news manager for the Hanford Joint Information Center, told NBC News. "There are no reports of injuries, no reports of a radiological release."
A manager sent a message to all personnel telling them to "secure ventilation in your building" and "refrain from eating or drinking."
Via Tri_City Herald:
An emergency has been declared in central Hanford in Eastern Washington state Tuesday after the roof of a tunnel used to store highly radioactively contaminated waste collapsed.
Several thousand workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation were told to take shelter in buildings.
About 1:35 p.m. non-essential workers north of Hanford’s Wye Barricade were told to go home. Swing shift was canceled for much of the site.
No decision had been made by 3 p.m. Tuesday on whether most employees should report to work Wednesday.
An aerial survey mid-morning Tuesday showed an opening about 20 feet by 20 feet into one of two tunnels, which had been covered with about eight feet of soil.
The breach at the defunct Purex processing plant tunnel could expose the highly radioactive material in the tunnel to the atmosphere.
No airborne radiation had been detected as of about noon. Radiological surveys were continuing.
All workers have been accounted for and none were injured, according to the Department of Energy.
The tunnels are about 25 miles northwest of the center of Richland in the Hanford nuclear reservation’s 200 East Area.
Instructions for Hanford workers to shelter in place were expanded from central Hanford to all of Hanford north of the Wye Barricade, plus the LIGO observatory, after the aerial survey.
The order was partially lifted about noon.
Workers outside the 200 East Area of central Hanford were being allowed to leave buildings then, but about 3,000 workers in the 200 East Area continued to shelter in place for about an hour longer. They included about 1,000 workers at the vitrification plant under construction.
No one was being allowed to enter the site beyond the security barricades and flights over the reservation were restricted for much of the morning.
The Department of Energy released this image of the tunnel collapse Tuesday at Hanford. The dark impression near the top of the screen is the apparent hole over a tunnel where highly radioactive material was stored. Department of Energy
From the Seattle Times:
Beginning in 1943 and lasting for more than 40 years, Hanford made plutonium for nuclear weapons, including for the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. About 8,000 people are currently working on a massive cleanup that is expected to cost more than $100 billion and last through 2060.
The Department of Energy opened an emergency operations center at the site just before 8:30 a.m.
The incident was initially declared an “alert emergency,” the lowest level of emergency classification at the site, but was later upgraded to a “site area emergency.” A site area emergency is limited to the boundaries of the Hanford site but could affect staff beyond the immediate facility.