Tunnel collapse at Hanford nuclear waste site is said to not show any signs of radiation leaks
Hanford was originally used to process plutonium for weapons during World War II and the Cold War
Cleanup has been going on at the site since 1989 two years after it closed
There were no injuries reported at the site following the tunnel collapse
At 8:26 am local time, employees at the Hanford nuclear waste site reported that some of the soil over a tunnel had sunk roughly four feet. An inspection team later found that a 20-foot section of the 100-foot tunnel had collapsed.
The Hanford Site
The United States Government bought the area of land in Washington State in 1943 as a site for the Manhattan Project. During World War II and the Cold War, the Hanford site was used to manufacture material, such as plutonium, for nuclear weapons.
In the early 1950’s, the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant was used to process over 70,000 tons of uranium fuel rods. PUREX is said to have been the largest output of any other uranium-processing plants in the entire world still to this day.
There are two tunnels in the Hanford area, one 360 feet long; the other is 1,170 feet long. Tuesday’s collapse was said to have happened at a juncture of the two tunnels.
When word got out of a tunnel collapse at a nuclear waste site, naturally concern that another Fukushima situation had just occurred. At this time, no employees have been reported as injured and there have been no signs that any radiation was leaked from the tunnel collapsing.
A large amount of the nuclear waste inside the tunnels of the Hanford site is said to be solid, and not likely to spread from a tunnel collapsing. Had there been an explosion or other means to spread the nuclear material, then there would be a reason for concern.
There is still concern over the nuclear waste site, mainly in relation to the liquid waste that is being stored in aging containers. Under the right circumstances, these storage containers could become a much larger threat to the area than Tuesday’s incident.
In the 1950’s the area was used for storage of equipment such as rail cars that were used to transport fuel rods from nuclear reactors so that they could be processed in other areas of the site.
The Hanford site closed in 1987 and cleanup in the area began in 1989. The cleanup employs roughly 8,000 people as they try to bury the nuclear remains of the site. Liquid waste is kept in storage containers while waiting to be turned into a solid, then it is decontaminated and buried in the area.
Inspection teams will have to try and determine what went wrong to cause Tuesday’s tunnel collapse for the cleanup process to continue. Burying all of the nuclear waste will not be worth the work if workers cannot keep it buried.
After the tunnel collapse, crew members could be seen walking the area with handheld devices checking for radiation leaks. Near the collapse, at least one Talon was deployed to get a closer look. Talon’s are robots that are used to inspect nuclear areas without putting employees at risk. They have been used in areas of Fukushima to inspect the ongoing nuclear situation where the radiation is not too high for them to scout.