Portion of tunnel containing nuke waste collapses at Hanford

The committee oversees the Energy Department's management of cleanup efforts at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

The depth of the soil collapse appears to have reached the tunnel, Hanford's emergency information site says.

It was discovered during "routine surveillance", according to the Energy Department. The tunnel that is possibly affected is next to a plutonium uranium extraction facility. The building has been vacant for almost 20 years but remains highly contaminated.

Reports are not now indicating any release of radioactivity.

Henderson said emergency crews on the scene were trying to determine what caused the cave-in. They rest on reinforced concrete footings.

It is not yet known if any radioactive materials were released into the air.


Hanford produced plutonium fuel for the U.S. military for four decades, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Plutonium production ended in 1980 and the clean-up programme began in 1989. Considering all the disgusting stuff still contained within America's most contaminated nuclear site, that did not sound good.

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. PUREX was last operated in 1988, but radioactive waste from the processing is still stored on site.

The 586-square-mile site was first used to produce plutonium in 1943. Hanford made the plutonium for the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, and much of the plutonium for the nation's nuclear arsenal.

This photo shows a 20 foot by 20 foot area of collapsed ground near the site. The tunnels are hundreds of feet long, covered in about eight feet of soil.

Over the course of its operating lifetime, the facility produced almost 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste that is now stored in 177 underground tanks. "My office is in close communication with these agencies and directly with Department of Energy headquarters in D.C. We will continue to monitor this situation and assist the federal government in its response". Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit a year ago, alleging hundreds of workers have been exposed to toxins escaping from nuclear waste storage tanks.

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone said the incident underscores the need for the Department of Energy to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety and security of workers. The work is expected to take until 2060 and cost more than $100 billion.

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