Saturday, 27 May, 2017

Energy chief says hole has been filled at nuclear waste site

Mae Harvey | 15 May, 2017, 17:59

Officials estimate it will take 50 truckloads of soil to fill the hole.

The Energy Department was warned in a 2015 report it commissioned that both tunnels were vulnerable to a collapse from an natural disaster or deterioration of tunnel building materials caused by intense radiation, the report said. Non-essential workers were told to not return to work Wednesday.

"Our top priority is to ensure the safety of Hanford workers and the community".

Gerry Pollet, a Washington state legislator and longtime Hanford critic, said the collapse of a waste storage tunnel at Hanford had been feared for years.

Ecology oversees and regulates the federal government's cleanup work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The site was established in 1943 to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project.

Last year, a 2024 cleanup deadline for the tunnel was extended to 2042, but the tribe is calling for immediate cleanup.

It first gained notoriety in 1943, when it took part in the Manhattan Project and helped develop the atomic bomb that the USA dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, to end World War II. Reactors at Hanford produced plutonium for the US nuclear weapons program.

The government spends about $2.3 billion annually operating the processing and storage facility and has poured more than $19 billion into developing new processing and storage tanks, but with little to show for it.

During a routine surveillance of the area on May 9, a 20-foot-wide hole in the roof of a tunnel was discovered near the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant, also known as PUREX, the Hanford Joint Information Center reported.

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The tunnels are made of wood and concrete and are covered by 8 about feet of soil.

Smith said the tunnel contains about 780 cubic yards (596 cubic meters) of waste - a mixture of radioactive and chemical waste and irradiated equipment, including the contaminated rail cars used to haul the fuel rods.

No radiological contamination was detected as a result of the tunnel collapse or during the filling of the hole.

Henderson said work continued overnight to prepare to fill the collapsed segment of the tunnel. It has not been occupied in 20 years and remains contaminated by radioactivity.

Workers near the PUREX facility were told to shelter in place, and access to the area was restricted, according to the Energy Department statement.

A vehicle drives by the hillsides neighboring the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Benton County, Tuesday, May 9, 2017, in Washington state.

The administration has requested $6.5 billion for DOE's environmental management program for 2018. Hanford is often described as the most polluted site in the country.

The sprawling Hanford site is about half the size of Rhode Island.

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.

"We don't know exactly how the soil caved in, it's too early", Heeter said.

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