The breakdown of an below the ground tunnel possessing radioactive waste that required workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to shelter in place is the most recent event to raise safety challenges at the sprawling site that produced plutonium for nuclear bombs for many years after World War II.
Authorities identified absolutely no release of radiation Tuesday and no employees were injured, stated Randy Bradbury, a spokesman for the Washington state Department of Ecology.
No employees were inside the tunnel when it collapsed, triggering soil on the surface above to sink 2 to 4 feet over a four hundred square foot area, authorities said.
The tunnels are hundreds of feet in length, with around 8 feet of soil overlaying them, the U.S. Department of Energy said.
The anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear indicated the event helped indicate “radioactive waste management is out of control.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington stated employee safety ought to be the top priority.
Worker safety has always been very important at Hanford, which is situated about 200 miles southeast of Seattle.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson submitted a lawsuit last fall against the Energy Department as well as its own contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, contending vapors discharged from underground nuclear waste tanks posed a significant threat to workers.
Ferguson claimed that since the early 1980s, many employees are exposed to vapors getting out from the tanks and that those inhaling the vapors developed nosebleeds, chest and lung pain, headaches, coughing, sore throats, irritated eyes and also shortness of breath.
Lawyers for the Energy Department have claimed no evidence is being provided showing employees are harmed by vapors.
The reason for the collapse was not immediately known. It became apparent Tuesday during a routine inspection as well as happened during a massive cleanup which has been underway since the 1980s as well as costs over $2 billion each year. The work is anticipated to take until 2060 and cost more than $100 billion.
Hanford officers said they were examining the portion of the collapse to figure out the right way to build a barrier between the contaminated equipment in the tunnel along with the outside air.
Employees close to the site were evacuated as well as hundreds of others farther away were informed to stay in the house for several hours, the federal agency stated.
Non-essential employees among the labor force of 9,000 at the area were dispatched home early along a secure route.
The incident at a plant called the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility (PUREX), situated in the middle of the 500-square-mile Hanford site.
The PUREX building is the length of 3 football fields and also was used to recover plutonium from irradiated fuel rods.
Hanford for many years created plutonium for nuclear weapons which is today the nation’s biggest depository of radioactive defense waste, with around 56 million gallons of waste, most of it in 177 underground tanks.
As part of the massive, present cleanup, rail cars filled with radioactive waste were often pushed into tunnels and buried.
The senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said he is actually asking for that the Energy Department brief the committee on the factor for the collapse.
New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone stated the event underscores the need for the department to seize all of the required measures to make sure the safety and security of employees.
The committee oversees the department’s management of the cleanup initiatives.