Yakamas call for faster cleanup of Hanford tunnel

Marco Green
May 13, 2017

Federal officials said approximately 50 truckloads of soil will be used to seal the 20-foot (six-meter) hole in the tunnel where carts filled with contaminated equipment are stored.

Inslee said that federal, state and local officials are working together on this incident and that his office is in close communication with the Department of Energy's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with about eight feet of soil covering them, the U.S. Department of Energy said.

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

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.

Since 1989, the government has been in the process of cleaning up the site, which is located in the south-central part of Washington state, about 45 miles from Yakima.

The Hanford Site is a mostly decommissioned nuclear production complex operated by the USA government on the Columbia River.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been briefed on the collapse of an underground railroad tunnel where nuclear waste is stored in a remote area of Washington state.

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

Perry made the comments during a tour of Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico, another one of the federal sites dealing with the cleanup of Cold War-era waste from decades of bomb-making and nuclear research.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a frequent Hanford critic, said the cave-in shows that the temporary solutions the Energy Department has used for decades are starting to fail.

Meanwhile, Hanford employees continued to be told to stay home on Wednesday. It was discovered during a routine inspection and occurred during a massive cleanup that has been under way since the 1980s and costs more than $2 billion a year.

"Unfortunately, the crisis at Hanford is far from an isolated incident", said Kevin Kamps of the anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear.

The rail tunnel was built in 1956 out of timber, concrete and steel, topped by 8 feet of dirt. That was later changed to a site emergency, which put everyone on the campus on alert, but with no leakage of radioactive material - generally released through steam, dust or water - residents of the nearest towns were not even ordered to take extra precautions.

"Weather it's the radiation, or the moisture or heavy snowfalls we had this winter. we just don't know what exactly could be causing this, or a combination of those".

Two tunnels were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s next to the former Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant (PUREX) located in an industrial area near the centre of the Hanford Site called the 200 East Area. The hole opened up near where the tunnel joins the larger tunnel No. 2, which holds 28 rail cars filled with 2,883 cubic yards of waste, and is large enough to accept more waste.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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