What is Hanford? Nation's most contaminated nuclear site

Posted May 10, 2017

Federal authorities on Tuesday evacuated some workers and instructed others to shelter in place after a tunnel cave-in at the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state.

Workers farther away from the site were told to remain indoors while the area is being tested for contamination, according to The Washington Post.

This image provided by the U.S. Department of Energy shows a 20-foot by 20-foot hole in the roof of a storage tunnel at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Wash., Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

The Associated Press, citing a spokesman for the Washington state Department of Ecology, says no workers were inside the tunnel at the time of the collapse, no injuries were reported and no radiation release has been detected. Considering all the frightful stuff still contained within America's most contaminated nuclear site, that did not sound good.

[Alvarez] said that the rail cars carry spent fuel from a reactor area along the river to the chemical processing facility, which then extracts risky plutonium and uranium.

But while the cleanup of the Hanford Site has continued for decades, the tunnels themselves have been allowed to decay, the worker said.

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Officials said there was "no indication of a release of contamination at this point" but that emergency crews were still testing the area for contamination.

The incident created some concern on Twitter as people tried to process information and determine whether it was a threat to them.

But this is hardly the first headline to stem from the site, which is located just 200 miles from Seattle, Washington. According to a facility statement issued late Tuesday morning, a 20-foot section of a tunnel caved in next to the site's PUREX facility (which extracts plutonium).

Experts are also concerned with the state of the site's "double shell" tanks - 1-million-gallon tanks that hold most of the site's radioactive waste. "My office is in close communication with these agencies and directly with Department of Energy headquarters in D.C. We will continue to monitor this situation and assist the federal government in its response". PUREX was last operated in 1988, but radioactive waste from the processing is still stored on site.

In the past, rail cars full of radioactive waste were driven into the tunnels and then buried there, he said. Hanford made the plutonium for the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, and much of the plutonium for the nation's nuclear arsenal.

Pallone said the Energy Department should provide details on the implications of the incident on continuing cleanup efforts.