Feds evacuate workers at Hanford nuclear site

Randall Padilla
May 10, 2017

A portion of an underground tunnel containing rail cars filled with 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.

The Energy Department said on Twitter that Secretary Rick Perry had been briefed on the incident, everyone was accounted for and there was no initial indication of worker exposure or airborne radiological release.

Crews are still monitoring for contamination, but have not yet found any indication that contamination was released in the cave-in.

[Alvarez] said that the rail cars carry spent fuel from a reactor area along the river to the chemical processing facility, which then extracts risky plutonium and uranium.

A spokesman for the Washington Emergency Management Division said the state Emergency Operations Centre has been activated.

Lori A.in the Hanford site Emergency Information office said that approximately 3,000 employees are now affected by the "take cover" order, which was initiated starting at about 8:30 this morning. All on-site workers have been told to "take cover" while the U.S. Department of Energy issues further directives for standard emergency protocol operations. Some were ordered to evacuate immediately while others were told to shelter-in-place as officials investigated the situation.

"The subsidence of soil was discovered during a routine surveillance of the area by workers", it said.

"The roof had caved in, about a 20-foot section of that tunnel, which is about a hundred feet long", he said. The TALON device allows crews to safely survey potential areas of contamination from a distance of up to ½ mile.

Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, a non-profit that monitors the nuclear reservation said plutonium has already been detected in local fish stocks and worries that if changes don't come soon, wild salmon stocks could be next.

The agency says it is too early to say what caused the cave-in. "The tunnels contain contaminated materials". The risky plutonium and uranium is then extracted.

Facility personnel have been evacuated, the statement says.

They were also instructed to "take cover" at the site located in Hanford, south-central Washington.

The PUREX plant has been vacant for almost 20 years, according to the Hanford Site website, but remains "highly contaminated" after housing operations to chemically process irradiated fuel rods to recover the plutonium contained within them.

As part of the huge, ongoing cleanup, rail cars full of radioactive waste were often driven into tunnels and buried.

Other reports by AllAboutTopnews

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