No radiation detected after tunnel breach at Washington nuclear site

22 Mai, 2017, 00:49 | Author: Marc Bacque
  • Warren File

Hundreds of workers were told to go into a "take cover" position after the tunnel in a plutonium uranium extraction (PUREX) plant collapsed.

The Department of Energy's Richland Office activated the Hanford Emergency Operations Center at 8:26 a.m., after an alert was declared at the 200 East Area near the Plutonium Uranium Extracation Plant, according to KHQ. An alert is the lowest level of emergency classification and is declared when an event is not expected to affect personnel outside of the facility boundary.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington said worker safety must be the priority. Nonessential employees have since been sent home, and essential employees were instructed to avoid the site of the tunnel.

- Contaminated equipment - ========================== Henderson said emergency crews on the scene were trying to determine what caused the cave-in.

However, tests are still continuing, with radiation levels constantly being monitored through the help of robotic equipment.

"There was no natural disaster. It's possible that at some point the soil above them was going to give in", Heeter said.

While there was no evidence of contamination, "we have ways to mitigate that if this problem arises", Heeter said, mentioning heavy-duty paint that traps the contamination and dust suppression.

"My thoughts are with the first responders who are working to assess the situation on the ground", she said.

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Employees at the PUREX facility were evacuated. The shelter in place order was lifted after a few hours after no contamination had been detected.

Officials did not say how long the work will take to fill the area.

Federal officials said there was no sign so far that any radioactive material had leaked following the collapse of part of the tunnel, which contained rail cars filled with nuclear waste.

Hanford was the site of U.S. military plutonium production activities from 1943 until 1987. "They are looking at options that would provide a barrier between the contaminated equipment in the tunnel and the outside air that would not cause the hole in the tunnel's roof to widen".

"I would underscore this is confined to a small area of the Hanford site", Destry Henderson, deputy news manager for the Hanford Joint Information Center, told NBC News.

Hanford, a 580-square-mile site in Eastern Washington, near Richland, Wash., produced plutonium from World War II through the Cold War. Now, the site is the biggest depository of radioactive defense waste in the United States, with about 56 million gallons mostly stored in 177 tanks located underground.

The last reactor shut down in 1987, shortly before the mammoth cleanup effort began.

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. The office has completed cleanup in many sites and says it is making "substantial progress in almost every area of nuclear waste cleanup".

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