Energy Chief Says Hole Filled at Nuclear Waste Site in Washington State

Overnight work at the Hanford nuclear reservation near Richland began laying the groundwork to fill a tunnel that collapsed Tuesday.

The section that collapsed was "in an area where the two tunnels join together", the department said.

A spokesman for the Hanford Site says the road provides a secure and clear path for workers to fill the tunnel opening. "We're going to approach this slowly, safely and methodically". This photo shows a 20 foot by 20 foot hole in the roof of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long.

On Tuesday, almost 4,800 employees took shelter indoors for five hours after a 20-foot-by-20-foot section of 360-foot-long tunnel containing eight railcars filled with radioactive material caved in.

So far, there has been no evidence of any airborne contamination caused by the collapse. The tunnel, constructed in the haste of the Cold War, was about 360-feet-long and built out of timbers and concrete.

"I am extremely concerned about what happened yesterday and how the Department of Energy can give us confidence that this will not happen again", Inslee said at a news conference.

Carpenter said that radioactive gamma rays are "certainly" coming out of the tunnel, but those diffuse quickly with distance and are not carried by wind.

The cleanup of all Hanford's waste is expected to last until 2060 and cost an additional $100 billion over the $19 billion already spent.


Worker safety has always been a concern at Hanford, which is located about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southeast of Seattle.

But Washington state officials were taken aback upon learning after the collapse that tunnel inspections were made on what they called an infrequent basis. It has not been occupied in 20 years and remains contaminated by radioactivity.

Workers at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington have sealed a hole that developed in one of the facility's tunnels this week. "This week's incident is a reminder that the men and women who work for the Department of Energy do incredible work, but that work does not come without risk".

Cleaning up radioactive materials at the Hanford site, which is a federal facility, has been one of the Energy Department's priorities for years.

"This alarming emergency compels us to take immediate action - to hold the federal government accountable to its obligation to clean up the largest nuclear waste site in the country", said Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon.

The site was established in 1943 to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project. Officials say that no workers were injured in the vicinity.

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

Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons and is now the nation's largest depository of radioactive defense waste, with about 56 million gallons of waste, most of it in 177 underground tanks.

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