Tunnel with nuclear waste collapses in Washington state

19 May 2017, 04:57 | Noah Barnes

Warren File

Warren File

Federal officials at midday said there was no sign so far that any radioactive material had leaked following the collapse of part of the tunnel, which contained rail cars filled with nuclear waste.

The Hanford Site is a mostly decommissioned nuclear production complex operated by the USA government on the Columbia River.

"There is evidence of a small sunken area of soil that covers the tunnel, but no collapse", the spokeswoman said.

"The roof had caved in, about a 20-foot section of that tunnel, which is about a hundred feet long", he said.

All workers at the plant, which sits along the Columbia River, were ordered inside and access to the affected area is now "restricted to protect employees". How did it get this bad? It manufactured the plutonium that was used in the first-ever nuclear bomb.

According to CBS News, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was created during World War II to secretly build the atomic bomb.

Hanford produced plutonium fuel for the U.S. military for four decades, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The plant, also known by its acronym PUREX, was used during the Cold War to chemically extract plutonium from irradiated fuel rods for use in nuclear weapons.

Workers were not exposed to radiation, said Hanford emergency center spokesman Destry Henderson.

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A former Energy Department official Bob Alvarez said that the rail cars carry spent fuel from a reactor area long the river to the chemical processing facility, which then extracts unsafe plutonium and uranium. She said that "worker safety must be our number one priority, and we need to understand whether there has been any environmental contamination resulting from the subsidence at these tunnels". But the wind could be a factor Wednesday because big gusts could stir up the radioactive particles in the hole and release them into the air.

That mostly worked until Tuesday, when a hole roughly six metres in diameter opened up above a joint between the two tunnels.

How will they clean up this mess?

"PUREX is slated to be decontaminated, demolished, and some of its debris removed".

"At that point.an emergency was declared and about half a dozen employees at the facility were evacuated", he said. These tunnels are decades old.

A year ago local media reported a "leak in a massive nuclear waste storage tank" had happened in 2012, which one worker described as "catastrophic". It was one of the original Manhattan Project sites. It has about 56 million gallons of nuclear waste stored in underground tanks until it can be treated for permanent disposal - a process that has been repeatedly delayed.

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