At one of the myriad of radioactive waste dumps in Hanford, Washington, a tunnel has collapsed:
Hundreds of workers at the Department of Energy’s Hanford nuclear site in Washington state had to “take cover” Tuesday morning after the collapse of 20-foot-long portion of a tunnel used to store contaminated radioactive materials.
The Energy Department said it activated its emergency operations protocol after reports of a “cave-in” at the 200 East Area in Hanford, a sprawling complex about 200 miles from Seattle where the government has been working to clean up radioactive materials left over from the country’s nuclear weapons program.
The agency said in a statement that the 20-foot section is part of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long and is “used to store contaminated materials.” The tunnel is one of two that run into the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX. The section that collapsed was “in an area where the two tunnels join together,” the department said.
The PUREX facility, once used to extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, has been idle for years but remains “highly contaminated,” the agency said.
An August 2015 report by Vanderbilt University’s civil and environmental engineering department said the PUREX facility and the two tunnels had “the potential for significant on-site consequences” and that “various pieces of dangerous debris and equipment containing or contaminated with dangerous/mixed waste” had been placed inside the tunnels.
Former Energy Department official Robert Alvarez said that remotely controlled rail cars once carried spent fuel from a reactor to the PUREX chemical processing facility, which then extracted dangerous plutonium. He said the plant lies near the middle of the sprawling 580-square mile Hanford site and was “a very high-hazard operation.”
Many contaminated pieces of equipment, including the rail cars, have simply been left in the tunnels, he said. The Vanderbilt report said that there were eight rail cars in the older tunnel and 28 in the newer one.
The cave-in was discovered during “routine surveillance,” according to the Energy Department. Photographs showed a gaping hole, plainly evident because the tunnels are largely above ground.
Workers near the PUREX facility were told to shelter in place, and access to the area was restricted, according to the Energy Department statement. Officials requested that the Federal Aviation Administration put a temporary flight restriction in place, according to the FAA.
We still have billions of dollars of nuclear waste to clean up from the Truman administration.
Nuclear power is a suckers game.