History of Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state

Tunnel collapse renews safety concerns about nuclear site

Tunnel collapse renews safety concerns about nuclear site

But non-essential workers at the Hanford site, which employs some 9,000 people, were told to stay home Wednesday.

The Energy Department says no one was injured in the collapse onto buried rail cars filled with nuclear waste.

"What they've done is prepare the area to begin filling the hole inside the PUREX tunnel", he added, referring to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant. The workers laid gravel down on which heavy equipment will operate to begin placing soil into caved-in portion.

Hanford, located in southcentral Washington state, has about 9,000 employees and majority were told to stay home Wednesday, Henderson said.

"If you have collapsing tunnels that could expose workers, this is a very dramatic concern that we have", Governor Inslee said.

Perry made the comments during a tour of Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico, another federal site dealing with the cleanup of Cold War-era waste from decades of bomb-making and nuclear research.

The task of Hanford cleanup has been contracted to Washington River Protection Solutions which is estimated to take 110 billion to clean up nearly "56 million gallons of chemical and nuclear waste, stored in 177 underground tanks" and could take 50 years.

The cleanup there has cost $19 billion to date and is not expected to be finished until 2060, at an additional cost of $100 billion. There is a massive volume of nuclear waste stored at the Hanford site, about the size of the US state of Rhode Island, and not all of the storage sites are inspected daily, Heeter said.

The 360-foot long (110-meter) rail tunnel that collapsed was built in 1956 from timber, concrete and steel and covered with 8 feet (2.4 meters) of dirt. Other workers who were further away were ordered to stay indoors.

The Hanford Site, about 150 miles southeast of Seattle, is a former nuclear production complex and home to a long-running, challenging and sometimes troubled cleanup operation.

Hanford is now the biggest reservoir of radioactive defense waste which must be cleaned. "This week's incident is a reminder that the men and women who work for the Department of Energy do incredible work, but that work does not come without risk".

Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington said worker safety must be the priority.

Heeter said there are eight rail cars inside tunnels at the site that were used to transport radioactive material.

Ecology is requiring the federal Department of Energy, through an enforcement order, to immediately assess the integrity of the tunnels, one of which partially collapsed on Tuesday, and take swift corrective action.

It has been sealed since the mid-1990s, according to the department of energy.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been briefed on the situation was told the agency will continue to monitor the situation.

"No action is required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties", the department said.

"There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point", the Department of Energy says.

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

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