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Background to the collapse of the Hanford nuclear waste rail tunnel

Nuclear Waste From the Cold War Is Being Stored in Unsafe Conditions. Time to Fix the Problem is Running Out, TIME, Nicholas K. Geranios and Manuel Valdes / AP, May 11, 2017 (RICHLAND, Wash.) “………Officials said they detected no release of radiation and no one was injured in the collapse, though thousands of workers were forced to take shelter for several hours as a precaution. The cause of the collapse was not immediately known.

A gravel road was built to the collapse site, and workers wearing protective suits and breathing masks planned to fill the hole with 50 truckloads of dirt, the Energy Department said.

The rail tunnel was built in 1956 out of timber, concrete and steel, topped by 8 feet of dirt. It was 360 feet long (110 meters). Radioactive materials were brought into the tunnel by railcars. The tunnel was sealed in 1965 with eight loaded flatbed cars inside.

Gerry Pollet, a Washington state legislator and longtime Hanford critic, said the collapse of a waste storage tunnel at Hanford had been feared for years.

“This disaster was predicted and shows the federal Energy Department’s utter recklessness in seeking decades of delay for Hanford cleanup,” he said.

He noted the Energy Department last year received permission to delay removing waste from the tunnels until 2042. The waste was supposed to be gone by 2024, Pollet said.

The radiation levels of the waste in the tunnel that collapsed would be lethal within an hour, Pollet said.

Hanford, a 500-square-mile expanse in remote interior Washington about 200 miles from Seattle, was created during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb.

Hanford made most of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons, including the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, during the war. It now contains the nation’s greatest volume of radioactive waste left over from the production of weapons plutonium.

The cleanup there has cost $19 billion to date and is not expected to be finished until 2060, at an additional cost of $100 billion.

The most dangerous waste at Hanford is 56 million gallons stored in 177 underground tanks, some of which have leaked.

Plans to embed the toxic stew in glass logs for burial have floundered. Construction of a $17 billion glassification factory has stopped because of design and safety issues.

The plan is to bury the glass logs at a nuclear waste dump carved inside Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a project that has been on the drawing board for three decades but has run into resistance from Nevada politicians, including former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid.

President Donald Trump has proposed $120 million to restart the licensing process for the dump.

Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this story. http://time.com/4775268/tunnel-collapse-nuclear-waste-hanford/

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May 12, 2017 - Posted by | safety, wastes

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