Tunnel with nuclear waste collapses in Washington state; workers near site evacuated

Energy Secretary Rick Perry was briefed on the incident that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called it a serious situation. U.S.

The accident occurred at a plant known as the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, or PUREX, located in the middle of the 500-square-mile Hanford site — half the size of Rhode Island.

“No action is currently required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties,” the U.S. “There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point.” Energy Department said, referring to the nearly 300,000 residents near the site about 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

Workers near the site of the collapse Tuesday were evacuated and hundreds of others farther away were told to remain indoors for several hours, the agency said. Some of the 9,000 workers at the site were sent home early along a safe access route.

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

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit last fall against the Energy Department and its contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, contending vapours released from underground nuclear waste tanks posed a serious risk to workers.

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Lawyers for the Energy Department have said no evidence has been provided showing workers have been harmed by vapours.

Officials detected no release of radiation at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and no workers were injured, said Randy Bradbury, a spokesman for the Washington state Department of Ecology.

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Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons and is now the nation’s largest depository of radioactive defence waste, with about 56 million gallons of waste, most of it in 177 underground tanks.

Ferguson said that since the early 1980s, hundreds of workers have been exposed to vapours escaping from the tanks and that those breathing the vapours developed nosebleeds, chest and lung pain, headaches, coughing, sore throats, irritated eyes and difficulty breathing.
As part of a huge, ongoing cleanup, rail cars full of radioactive waste were driven into tunnels and buried, Bradbury said.

Department of Energy said. The tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with about eight feet (2.4 metres) of soil covering them, the U.S.

The work is expected to take until 2060 and cost more than $100 billion. It was discovered during a routine inspection and occurred during a massive cleanup that has been under way since the 1980s and costs more than $2 billion a year. The cause of the collapse was not immediately known.

“Ensuring the safety of the workers and the community is the top priority,” said Inslee, a Democrat who previously represented the Hanford region in Congress.

— A portion of an underground tunnel containing rail cars full of radioactive waste collapsed Tuesday at a sprawling storage facility in a remote area of Washington state, forcing an evacuation of some workers at the site that made plutonium for nuclear weapons for decades after World War II. SPOKANE, Wash.


An emergency was declared Tuesday after the partial collapse of the tunnel that contains rail cars full of radioactive waste. This image provided by the U.S. (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. Department of Energy via AP)

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

No workers were inside the tunnel when it collapsed, causing soil on the surface above to sink two to four feet (half to 1.2 metres) over a 400 square foot (37.1 square meters) area, officials said.
Worker safety has long been a concern at Hanford.