Quantcast

Emergency Declared at Nuclear Waste Site in Washington State

The Department of Energy declared an emergency Tuesday at a plutonium-handling facility at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state after a tunnel partly collapsed. Federal officials said, there was "no indication of a release of contamination at this point."


Hundreds of Workers were told to evacuate or take cover as officials responded to reports of "a cave-in of a 20 foot section of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long that is used to store contaminated materials," according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

"The tunnel itself was breached. There was a 20-foot wide hole," a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy said by telephone from the Hanford Joint Information Center.

The tunnel, located next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX, is in the center of Hanford in an area known as the 200 East Area.

"The PUREX facility is one of Hanford's most contaminated areas," Dan Serres, conservation director at Columbia Riverkeeper, told EcoWatch. "It was the source for the majority of Hanford's weapons plutonium, and Hanford itself produced more than two-thirds of the plutonium in the U.S."

"The tunnel collapse is a disturbing event, and we hope for the safety of all the workers in the area," Serres continued. "Their work is critical to protecting our region and the Columbia River. Looking forward, we will be watching closely to see how the U.S. Department of Energy continues the cleanup effort in this area and throughout the Hanford site."

The Energy Department said via Twitter that Sec. Perry "has been briefed on the incident." The most recent update from the DOE, said crews were continuing to monitor the air as employees were being released early as a precaution.

"This is a potentially serious event," Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said. "I can see why the site ordered emergency measures. Collapse of the earth covering the tunnels could lead to a considerable radiological release."

The Hanford site, in southeastern Washington about 170 miles east of Seattle, is known for being the most contaminated nuclear site in the country. The facility made more than 20 million pieces of uranium metal fuel for nine nuclear reactors along the Columbia River. The reactors produced plutonium for America's defense program. Production ended at the facility in the late 1980s, and cleanup began in 1989, after a landmark agreement between the DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington state.

According to a report late last year from the Oregon Public Broadcasting:

"Hanford is the nation's largest nuclear cleanup site, with 56 million gallons of radioactive waste sitting in old, leaky underground tanks just a few hours upriver from Portland. After more than 20 years and $19 billion[,] not a drop of waste has been treated.

"Hanford sits next to the Columbia River. It was one of the original Manhattan Project sites. Its nine nuclear reactors irradiated uranium fuel rods. That created plutonium, which was extracted with chemicals, processed and shipped to weapons factories. Each step produced radioactive waste. ...

"The stored waste has to be treated in special rooms called black cells, which are too radioactive for humans to enter. The machinery in these black cells is supposed to operate for 40 years with no direct human intervention. If something goes wrong, the cells could be damaged."

Watch here to learn more about the Hanford site:

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A metal fence marked with the U.S. Border Patrol sign prevents people to get close to the barbed/concertina wire covering the U.S./Mexico border fence, in Nogales, Arizona, on Feb. 9. ARIANA DREHSLER / AFP / Getty Images

President Donald Trump issued the first veto of his presidency Friday, overturning Congress' vote to block his national emergency declaration to fund a border wall that environmental advocates say would put 93 endangered species at risk. However, the president's decision came the same day as an in-depth report from UPI revealing how razor wire placed at the border in the last four months already threatens wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Guillermo Murcia / Moment / Getty Images

By Ansley Hill

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that your body needs for many vital processes, including building and maintaining strong bones.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
D'Bone Collector Museum head Darrell Blatchley shows plastic found inside the stomach of a Cuvier's beaked whale in the Philippines this weekend. - / AFP / Getty Images

Yet another whale has died after ingesting plastic bags. A young male Cuvier's beaked whale was found washed up in Mabini, Compostela Valley in the Philippines Friday, CNN reported. When scientists from the D' Bone Collector Museum in Davao investigated the dead whale, they found it had died of "dehydration and starvation" after swallowing plastic bags―40 kilograms (approximately 88 pounds) worth of them!

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Jeff Turrentine

"Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it." This is something that everybody has to learn at some point. Lately, the lesson has hit home for a group of American automakers.

Read More Show Less
Art direction: Georgie Johnson. Illustrations: Freya Morgan

By Joe Sandler Clarke

"Don't expect us to continue buying European products," Malaysia's former plantations minister Mah Siew Keong told reporters in January last year. His comments came just after he had accused the EU of "practising a form of crop apartheid."

A few months later Luhut Pandjaitan, an Indonesian government minister close to President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, warned his country would retaliate if it was "cornered" by the EU.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Torres and his parents walk along the Rio Grande. Luis Torres / Earthjustice

By Luis Torres

For some people who live along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump's attempt to declare a national emergency and extend the border wall is worse than a wasteful, unconstitutional stunt. It's an attack on their way of life that threatens to desecrate their loved ones' graves.

Read More Show Less
Flooding at the Platte River south of Fremont, Nebraska. Gov. Pete Ricketts

Flooding caused by last week's bomb cyclone storm has broken records in 17 places across the state of Nebraska, CNN reported Sunday. Around nine million people in 14 states along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers were under a flood watch, CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis said.

Read More Show Less
A car destroyed by Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique. ADRIEN BARBIER / AFP / Getty Images

At least 150 people have died in a cyclone that devastated parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi over the weekend, The Associated Press reported Sunday. Cyclone Idai has affected more than 1.5 million people since it hit Mozambique's port city of Beira late Thursday, then traveled west to Zimbabwe and Malawi. Hundreds are still missing and tens of thousands are without access to roads or telephones.

"I think this is the biggest natural disaster Mozambique has ever faced. Everything is destroyed. Our priority now is to save human lives," Mozambique's Environment Minister Celso Correia said, as AFP reported.

Read More Show Less