Emergency declared at Hanford nuclear site - KPTV - FOX 12

Emergency declared at Hanford nuclear site

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(courtesy Department of Energy) (courtesy Department of Energy)

An emergency has been declared at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington after a portion of a tunnel that contained rail cars full of nuclear waste collapsed.

The DOE’s Richland Operation Office activated the Hanford Emergency Operations Center at 8:26 a.m. after an alert was declared at the 200 East Area, which is located at the center of the Hanford site.

Those tunnels contain rail cars full of contaminated materials from the former Hanford plutonium uranium extraction plant.

Officials have evacuated facility personnel from the area, and workers in potentially affected areas have gone indoors as a precaution.

Randy Bradbury, a spokesman for the Washington state Department of Ecology, said there apparently has been no release of radiation and no workers were injured.

The U.S. Department of Energy said the collapse covered about 400 square feet instead of the 16 square feet first reported at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The agency says the rail tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with about eight feet of soil covering them. The U.S. Department of Energy says the incident caused the soil above the tunnel to sink between 2 and 4 feet.

Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement about the situation Tuesday morning. 

The Department of Energy informed us this morning that a tunnel was breached that was used to bury radioactive waste from the production of plutonium at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. I appreciate that the White House reached out to my office to alert us to the situation as well.

This is a serious situation, and ensuring the safety of the workers and the community is the top priority. Our understanding is that the site went into immediate lockdown, in which workers were told to seek shelter, and all access to the area has been closed.

Federal, state and local officials are coordinating closely on the response, and the state Department of Ecology is in close communication with the U.S. Department of Energy Richland Office. My office is in close communication with these agencies and directly with Department of Energy headquarters in DC. We will continue to monitor this situation and assist the federal government in its response.

The Oregon Department of Energy is monitoring the situation at Hanford, as well. 

"While there are special precautions being taken on-site at Hanford, Oregonians do not need to take any special precautions or protective actions," said Michael Kaplan, director of the Oregon Department of Energy, which conducts emergency planning for a nuclear incident. "We want people to be aware that we're closely monitoring the incident at Hanford and will continue to provide more information as soon as it becomes available."

Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons and now is engaged in cleaning up the nation's largest volume of radioactive defense wastes.

The sprawling Hanford site is located near Richland and is half the size of Rhode Island.

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