State plans enforcement action at nuke site

  • State plans enforcement action at nuke site

State plans enforcement action at nuke site

Thousands of workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation were told to stay home Wednesday as efforts began to plug a hole that developed in the partial collapse of a tunnel containing unsafe radioactive waste from the building of nuclear bomb materials.

Non-essential workers at the Hanford site near Richland, Washington, which employs some 9,000 people, were told to stay home Wednesday.

The site contains a lot of contaminated equipment, such as the rail cars, which have simply been left in the tunnels which could pose to be a hazard.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a frequent Hanford critic, said the cave-in shows that the temporary solutions the Energy Department has used for decades are starting to fail.

The spokesman warns the process will be done slowly, safely and methodically.

The Department of Energy says a 20-foot-by-20-foot section of soil caved in where two underground tunnels meet next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, known as the PUREX plant.

Hanford Nuclear Reservation made plutonium for nuclear weapons for decades and is now the largest depository of radioactive defense waste that must be cleaned.

The 177 large underground tanks hold some 200 million litres of radioactive waste.

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. "Ensuring the safety of the workers and the community is the top priority".

The tunnel was built to house rail cars that were filled with contaminated equipment and moved into the tunnels during the Cold War, the center said. Non-essential workers among the labor force of 9,000 at the site were sent home early along a safe route.

"The issue is whether or not there's sufficient wind to start sucking materials out of that tunnel and into the environment", said Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, a Hanford watchdog organization.

"I know that's one of the things that they've been trying to determine, is when it might have happened", said Ken Niles, the administrator of the Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board for the Oregon Department of Ecology.

A spokeswoman at the Department of Energy said almost 5,000 employees were at the Hanford Site, which spreads across 586 square miles (1,518 square kilometers), when the emergency was declared and they were ordered to take cover.

The tribe also said the tunnels should be cleaned of radioactive waste and radiation long before a deadline of 2042 set by a cleanup agreement between the federal and state governments.

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

Most on site work at the nuclear reservation was canceled Wednesday.

Officials say no workers were inside the tunnel when it collapsed, causing soil on the surface above to sink 2 to 4 feet (half to 1.2 meters) over a 400 square foot (37 square meters).

"No action is required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties", the department said. "After extensive testing the site remains confident at this point that there has been no indication of worker exposure or an airborne radiological release".

The Hanford Site was part of the Manhattan Project, which led to the production of the first atomic bombs, including the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.