Workers begin to fill collapsed radioactive tunnel at Hanford via The Seattle Times

Work has begun to fill the 400-square-foot hole in a tunnel at the Hanford nuclear reservation. The tunnel contains eight railcars filled with radioactive waste, but officials said there was no indication of a radioactive release and no workers were injured.

Crews have begun filling in a 400-square-foot collapse in a tunnel that’s loaded with radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation near Richland, the Department of Energy said Wednesday.

The discovery of the hole on Tuesday forced thousands of workers to shelter indoors for hours, although there were no injuries reported and the department said there was no indication of a radioactive release.


Crews worked overnight, laying a gravel bed to make a road for heavy equipment to reach the site of the tunnel cave-in, Destry Henderson, a Hanford spokesman, said Wednesday.

“No action is required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties,” the department said.

On Wednesday morning, crews began filling the cave-in with soil. The department estimated that about 50 truckloads of soil would be needed to “stabilize that portion of the tunnel.”

Workers in the area are wearing protective suits and breathing masks, the department said. But in a video of remediation work released by the department, at least two crew members next to the tunnel site appear to be wearing little more than reflective vests and hard hats.


Known as tunnel No. 1, it is 360 feet long and contains eight rail cars filled with radioactive material. Sealed in 1965, the tunnel contains 780 cubic yards of waste. The hole opened up near where the tunnel joins the larger tunnel No. 2, which holds 28 rail cars filled with 2,883 cubic yards of waste, and is large enough to accept more waste.

The tunnels are made of wood and concrete and are covered by 8 about feet of soil.

“The issue is whether or not there’s sufficient wind to start sucking materials out of that tunnel and into the environment,” said Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, a Hanford watchdog organization. 

Carpenter said that radioactive gamma rays are “certainly” coming out of the tunnel, but those diffuse quickly with distance and are not carried by wind. If radioactive dust or soil were to be released from the site it would be a different story.

Radiation levels within the tunnels were lethal within an hour, according to Heart of America NW, another Hanford watchdog group.


In January, Washington’s entire 12-member congressional delegation wrote to then-president-elect Donald Trump asking him to make the Hanford cleanup — which currently costs about $2 billion a year — a priority.

“It’s a real eye opener,” said Edwin Lyman, an expert on nuclear proliferation and safety with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “No matter how this particular event unfolds, I think it’s going to focus attention on these tunnels and other sweeping risks at Hanford that need more resources and more effort to address.”

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