Site-wide emergency alert at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State


Thousands of workers were told to take cover at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State after officials confirmed a tunnel collapse in its Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant (PUREX) full of highly contaminated materials on Tuesday morning, May 9, 2017. Although officials say that no contamination has been detected on the ground following the cave-in, local media report that the danger is still not over.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Richland Operations Office declared an emergency at the Hanford Site at approximately 8:30 PDT after a cave-in of a 20-foot (6 meters) section of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long that is used to store contaminated materials. The tunnel is located next to the PUREX which is located in the center of the Hanford Site, in an area known as the 200 East Area. "No contamination has been detected following the cave-in," the agency said in a statement. "Crews are continuing to survey the area for contamination and workers are preparing to fill the hole created by the cave-in in order to stabilize the tunnel," it said.

As a precaution, workers in the vicinity of the PUREX facility as well as the Hanford Site north of the Wye Barricade (southern entrance to the site) were told to shelter in-place for a few hours. The shelter in place order was lifted in stages from noon to approximately 13:30, and employees were sent home early.

Only personnel essential to minimum safe operations are reporting to work, and non-essential personnel for swing and graveyard shifts were told not to report for work.

In 2015, a preliminary report identified the tunnels and the PUREX facility as a major risk area on the Hanford site. The report concluded if the tunnels collapsed, from an earthquake or another natural cause, it could pose a risk to workers because of the highly contaminated railcars stored inside.

Between 1960 and 1965, those eight loaded rail cars were pushed inside the tunnel that partially collapsed Tuesday, NW News Network writes. Another tunnel was constructed in 1964 to add space for 40 more railcars. Currently, it has 28 railcars full of radioactively contaminated equipment. The tunnels, which were built using concrete and wood, were sealed in the mid-1990s, according to the DOE Richland Office.

According to KING5, officials say a collapsed patch of ground above the tunnel was larger than first believed. The U.S. Department of Energy said the collapse covered about 400 square feet (37.1 square meters) instead of the 16 square feet (1.4 square meters) first reported. Their sources warned the danger is not over.

Tom Carpenter, the Executive Director of Hanford Challenge, said that this event is highly unusual. "This was an emergency alert that covered the enitire site and is still in place," he told KING5.

"This is absolutely a huge warning to Hanford, federal officials who oversee that site and to the State of Washington. There are bad things at Hanford that could blow up, that could contaminate the communities, be a three-state disaster," Carpenter said.

"Officials tell us that no contamination was wound on people closest to the hole or on the ground, but the key to making sure it stays that way is the wind," KING5 reporter Susannah Frame said. "If the wind were to pick up, that could circulate air down in that tunnel and release radioactive particles into the air," she said.

Featured image credit: KING5

If you value what we do here, create your ad-free account and support our journalism.


Your support makes a difference

Dear valued reader,

We hope that our website has been a valuable resource for you.

The reality is that it takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to maintain and grow this website. We rely on the support of readers like you to keep providing high-quality content.

If you have found our website to be helpful, please consider making a contribution to help us continue to bring you the information you need. Your support means the world to us and helps us to keep doing what we love.

Support us by choosing your support level – Silver, Gold or Platinum. Other support options include Patreon pledges and sending us a one-off payment using PayPal.

Thank you for your consideration. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Teo Blašković

$5 /month

  • Ad-free account
  • Clean user interface and fast browsing
  • Direct communication with us via chat and email
  • Suggest new features, content and applications
  • Early access to new apps and features

$50 /year

$10 /month

  • Ad-free account
  • Clean user interface and fast browsing
  • Direct communication with us via chat and email
  • Suggest new features, content and applications
  • Early access to new apps and features

$100 /year

$25 /month

  • Ad-free account
  • Clean user interface and fast browsing
  • Direct communication with us via chat and email
  • Suggest new features, content and applications
  • Early access to new apps and features

$200 /year

You can also support us on Patreon

support us on patreon

or by sending us a one-off payment using PayPal:

Commenting rules and guidelines

We value the thoughts and opinions of our readers and welcome healthy discussions on our website. In order to maintain a respectful and positive community, we ask that all commenters follow these rules:

  • Treat others with kindness and respect.
  • Stay on topic and contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way.
  • Do not use abusive or hateful language.
  • Do not spam or promote unrelated products or services.
  • Do not post any personal information or content that is illegal, obscene, or otherwise inappropriate.

We reserve the right to remove any comments that violate these rules. By commenting on our website, you agree to abide by these guidelines. Thank you for helping to create a positive and welcoming environment for all.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *