Update: Workers evacuated after tunnel collapse at Hanford Nuclear Plant

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This picture shows a 20 foot by 20 foot hole in the roof of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long. Surveys of the area show no indication of release of contamination as a result of the cave-in. (Photo from Hanford.gov)
A 20 foot by 20 foot hole in the roof of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long. (Photo from Hanford.gov)

HANFORD – In a story first reported by King 5 News, Hanford workers are reportedly taking cover after a tunnel in a plutonium uranium extraction plant collapsed at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation early this morning.

Workers evacuated after tunnel collapse at Hanford Nuclear Plant
Workers evacuated after tunnel collapse at Hanford Nuclear Plant

The tunnel is reportedly full of highly contaminated materials but no workers were trapped in the collapse.  It’s not known at this time if any radioactive material has been released but workers were told to initiate ventilation systems and were being evacuated.  A source said that crews doing road work nearby may have created enough vibration to cause the tunnel collapse.

Hanford Nuclear Site
Hanford Nuclear Site

Destry Henderson, deputy news manager for the Hanford Joint Information Center, told NBC News “I would underscore this is confined to a small area of the Hanford site. There are no reports of injuries, no reports of a radiological release.”

According to the Hanford Emergency website, officials are responding to a reports of a cave-in of a 20 foot section of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long that is used to store contaminated materials. The tunnel is located next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX, which is located in the center of the Hanford Site in an area known as the 200 East Area.  Crews are continuing to survey the area for contamination. All personnel in the vicinity of the PUREX facility have been accounted for and there are no reports of injuries.

Tunnel Collapse Update from Hanford

  • 12:08 PM – There is still no indication of a release of contamination from the hole in the PUREX tunnel. Crews are continuing to monitor the air in the vicinity and have not detected contamination. Hanford Site employees north of the Wye Barricade and outside of the 200 East Area are now being released from work early as a precaution (as of 12:00 PM). Personnel in the 200 East Area remain sheltered in-place.
  • 11:59 AM – An alert was declared at the Hanford Site this morning at approximately 8:30 AM. An alert is the lowest level of emergency classification and is declared when an event is not expected to affect personnel outside of the facility boundary. Later this morning, the alert was expanded to a Site Area Emergency. A Site Area Emergency is declared when the event is affecting or could potentially affect personnel beyond the facility boundary but not beyond the boundary of the Hanford Site.
  • 11:24 AM – The Department of Energy held a briefing on its Hanford Site Facebook channel. You can view the briefing on the Hanford Site Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HanfordSite/).
  • 11:13 AM – Crews are currently surveying the area near the PUREX tunnels for contamination. Crews are using hand surveying techniques in the outer areas around the PUREX facility. At and near the area of subsidence crews have deployed a TALON, which is a remote operated surveying device that is capable of radiological and industrial hygiene monitoring as well as capturing video footage. The TALON device allows crews to safely survey potential areas of contamination from a distance of up to ½ mile.
  • 10:54 AM – Responders are on the scene and are reporting the soil has subsided in an area approximately 20 feet by 20 feet over one of the tunnels next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX. There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point. Responders are getting closer to the area where the soil has subsided for further visual inspection. The subsidence of soil was discovered during a routine surveillance of the area by workers. The tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with approximately eight feet of soil covering them. The depth of the subsidence of soil appears to be into the tunnel. The tunnels to the PUREX facility are located to the east of the facility, extending south. There are two tunnels, one is approximately 360 feet long and the other is approximately 1,700 feet long. The tunnels were used beginning in the 1950s to store contaminated equipment. The 20 foot wide by 20 foot long cave-in is in an area where the two tunnels join together.
  • 10:13 AM – Responders are on the scene and are reporting the soil has subsided in an area approximately 20 feet by 20 feet over one of the tunnels next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX. There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point. Responders are getting closer to the area where the soil has subsided for further visual inspection. The subsidence of soil was discovered during a routine surveillance of the area by workers. The tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with approximately eight feet of soil covering them. The depth of the subsidence of soil appears to be into the tunnel.
  • 9:39 AM – The Hanford Fire Department is on scene and updates will be posted as they are available. Workers in the vicinity are still being sheltered as a precaution.

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