Tuesday morning, hundreds of workers at the Washington state Hanford nuclear site had to take cover after the collapse of a 20-foot-long portion of a tunnel used to store contaminated radioactive materials. Emergency operations protocols were quickly activated and “…All personnel in the vicinity of the PUREX facility have been accounted for and there are no reports of injuries.”. (Also, just an FYI, this site is about 200 miles from Seattle where the government is currently cleaning up radioactive materials left over from our nuclear weapons program. Who continues to think nuclear sites are a good, safe bet?)

The agency said in a statement that the 20-foot section is part of a tunnel, hundreds of feet long, that’s used to store contaminated materials. “The tunnel is one of two that run into the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX. There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point, Crews are continuing to survey the area for contamination.”

Though the PUREX facility, once used to extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, has been idle for years it obviously remains highly contaminated. A former Energy Department official, Robert Alvarez, said that the walls of the older tunnel, constructed decades ago, are 14 inches thick and held up by pressure-treated Douglas fir timbers that rest on reinforced concrete footings (the newer tunnel was built with reinforced concrete).

And what’s scary is that a 1997 DOE report found that inspection of the tunnels isn’t possible because the levels of radiation are in excess of five roentgens per hour. So, we still have cause for concern. If the earth that’s covering the tunnels collapses, it could lead to an enormous amount of “radiological release.”

From the article:

“The cave-in was discovered during “routine surveillance,” according to the Energy Department. Photographs showed a gaping hole, plainly evident because the tunnels are largely above ground.

Workers near the PUREX facility were told to shelter in place, and access to the area was restricted, according to the Energy Department statement. Officials requested that the Federal Aviation Administration put a temporary flight restriction in place, according to the FAA.”

Thankfully, the Trump administration has requested $6.5 billion for the agency’s environmental management program for 2018; the budget for just Hanford is about $2.3 billion this current fiscal year.

Source: Washington Post