Workers fix hole in Washington nuclear site tunnel

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced the end of the crisis, but said the next step was to investigate exactly why the tunnel collapsed and to take steps to ensure another collapse would be prevented.

Workers have most of the road in place to get heavy equipment to the collapsed tunnels site.

Thousands of workers at Hanford were told to stay home Wednesday as efforts began to plug the sinkhole in the earth over the unoccupied storage tunnel.

Safely removing it now is proving enormously expensive, slow-going, extraordinarily unsafe and so complex that much of the technology required simply does not exist.

There are two tunnels dug into the hillside at the site, the shorter of which suffered the collapse that ran for about 20 linear feet.

The tunnel holds rail cars loaded with equipment contaminated by nuclear material.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post yesterday that there is considerable cause for concern about the tunnel collapse, notwithstanding reassurances from government officials.

As per many reports, the region was built in the time of Cold War era, which situated in the 20-by-20 feet of area in hundreds of feet long stretch, now the soil of upper layers of the tunnel has been collapsed.




"No action is now required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties", the Energy Department said, referring to the almost 300,000 residents near the site. Experts say that exposure to plutonium and uranium, another radioactive element that may be present in unsafe levels in the tunnel, can be deadly to humans and animals.

The cleanup of Hanford's waste is expected to last until 2060 and cost an additional $100 billion over the $19 billion already spent.

Hanford is one of several active sites undergoing cleanup under the direction of the Department of Energy's Office of Environment Management.

On Tuesday morning, about six Hanford employees on routine rounds noticed that an area of soil over one of the tunnels had sunk, Henderson said.

The accident occurred at a plant known as the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, or PUREX, located in the middle of the 500-square-mile Hanford site - half the size of Rhode Island.

No airborne radioactive contamination has been detected from the breach by either federal or state monitors, say officials.

A holdover from the Manhattan Project, the Hanford site is the largest repository of nuclear waste in the United States. Over the years, 67 of these have leaked a million gallons of radioactive waste and around 61 square miles have been contaminated. "This week's incident is a reminder that the men and women who work for the Department of Energy do incredible work, but that work does not come without risk". The most risky are 56 million gallons of waste stored in 177 aging underground storage tanks, some of which have leaked.

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