The United States Department of Energy activated the Emergency Operations Center earlier today, due to a tunnel collapse at the Hanford nuclear site.
The tunnel, according to sources, was filled with plutonium along with other highly contaminated materials, such as transport fuel rods. Some workers are being evacuated, while others are being advised to hunker down.
— Hanford Site (@HanfordSite) May 9, 2017
According to NBC News:
“Some 200 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington state were ordered to immediately “take cover” Tuesday after a 20-foot section of tunnel where radioactive waste was being stored collapsed.”
“The alert was declared at 8:26 a.m. local time after a cave-in exposed ‘railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing plant’ containing ‘contaminated materials,’ the U.S. Department of Energy reported.”
Thankfully, Destry Henderson, the deputy news manager for the Hanford Joint Information Center, has said that they were able to confine the nuclear material to a small area, thus posing no risk to civilians.
“There are no reports of injuries, no reports of radiological release,” she added. “I would underscore this is confined to a small area of the Hanford site.”
There was also some concern over the potential for contaminating nearby communities, but officials have claimed that the communities outside the sprawling 580 square-mile site are safe.
The dark area underneath the tall orange flag is the collapse site – a hole left by the tunnel collapse. pic.twitter.com/7fvqsRimhC
— Susannah Frame (@SFrameK5) May 9, 2017
The Washington Post also adds information about the tunnel that collapsed:
“The agency said in a statement that the 20-foot section is part of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long and is ‘used to store contaminated materials.’ The tunnel is one of two that run into the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX. The section that collapsed was ‘in an area where the two tunnels join together,’ the department said.”
“The PUREX facility, once used to extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, has been idle for years but remains ‘highly contaminated,’ the agency said.”
The Washington Post goes on to claim that DoE officials say there’s “no indication” of a release of radioactive contamination, but crews are still testing the area. Responders have also been using robots to take videos and survey the damage.
One senior scientist, however, is concerned. Edwin Lyman, member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that there is still reason to worry. “It appears that this is a potentially serious event,” he says. “Collapse of the earth covering the tunnels could lead to a considerable radiological release.”
Fox News confirms our other sources:
“The tunnel at the Hanford plant building known as PUREX was full of contaminated particles, including radioactive train cars that transported fuel rods, KING5 reported. The entire site is about half the size of Rhode Island, Q13 Fox added. Hanford is located about 200 miles southeast of Seattle.”
“The 20 feet-by-20 feet area that suffered the collapse was built during the Cold War, and sits over a tunnel which is hundreds of feet long. Eight feet of soil covers the tunnel and the soil appeared to have collapsed into the tunnel, authorities said.”
Most sources agree that the damage is relatively serious, but that the radioactive contamination can, and is being contained.