"Serious Situation" After Tunnel Collapse At WA Nuclear Facility; Evacuation Ordered, No-Fly Zone In Place

Tyler Durden's picture

Update 5: The Spokane Spokesman-Review reports that Gov. Jay Inslee was notified about the tunnel breach by the Energy Department and the White House on Tuesday morning. Inslee called the event “a serious situation.” “Federal, state and local officials are coordinating closely on the response,” Inslee said, said, with the state Ecology Department in close communication with the Energy Department. There were no plans for Inslee, who is making several previously planned stops in Skamania County on Tuesday, to go to Hanford, his staff said.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry had been briefed, federal officials said, adding that “everyone has been accounted for and there is no initial indication of any worker exposure or an airborne radiological release.”

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., released a statement as well: “Worker safety must be our number one priority, and we need to understand whether there has been any environmental contamination resulting from the subsidence at these tunnels. My thoughts are with the first responders who are working to assess the situation on the ground, monitor any environmental impacts and design next steps for securing the area.”

Update 4: Washington Emergency Management has released a map showing the distances from the incident to various neighborhoods... non-essential employees in 200 East Area have been released. Swing shift north of the WYE Barricade is cancelled.


Update 3: Images of the hole in the roof of the tunnel have been released...


Update 2: An aerial survey midmorning Tuesday showed an opening about 20 feet by 20 feet into the tunnel, which had been covered with about eight feet of soil. As Tri-CityHerald.com reports , the breach could expose the highly radioactive material disposed of in the tunnel to the atmosphere.

No airborne radiation had been detected as of about 10:30 a.m. Radiological surveys were continuing.


Instructions for people to shelter in place were expanded from central Hanford to all of Hanford, including LIGO and the reactor areas along the Columbia River, after the aerial survey. No one is being allowed to enter the site beyond the security barricades.


Earlier in the morning workers near Purex had noticed a 4-foot-by-4-foot depression that was 2 to 4 feet deep over the tunnel.


Workers in Purex were evacuated when the depression was noticed.


About 3,000 workers in central Hanford initially were told to take shelter indoors, including about 1,000 workers at the vitrification plant construction site. Ventilation systems at the vit plant have been turned off as part of the emergency procedure and equipment that could generate heat have powered down.

The DOE announced that secretary Perry is aware of the incident and that there is no initial indication of any worker exposure or an airborne radiological release.

Meanwhile, Private pilots in the area have been told to avoid flying over Hanford. The Hanford Patrol is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to put a formal air restriction in place until the FAA can confirm there is no danger.

Update 1: A robot is being used to sample the contaminated air and soil in the area around the collapse...

And here is a chart of current windflows...

*  *  *

As we detailed earlier, the U.S. Department of Energy activated the Emergency Operations Center Tuesday due to a tunnel collapse at the Hanford nuclear site.


According to KING-TV, a "tunnel in a plutonium finishing plant collapsed in Hanford early Tuesday morning. The tunnel was full of highly contaminated materials such as hot radioactive trains that transport fuel rods."

As Breaking911 reports, some workers were being evacuated while others were advised to shelter-in-place. 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.

From the U.S. Department of Energy

“The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Richland Operations Office activated the Hanford Emergency Operations Center at 8:26 a.m., after an alert was declared at the 200 East Area. There are concerns about subsidence in the soil covering railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing facility. The tunnels contain contaminated materials.”

Actions taken to protect site employees include:

  • Facility personnel have been evacuated
  • As a precaution, workers in potentially affected areas of the Hanford Site have gone indoors
  • Access to the 200 East Area of the Hanford Site, which is located in the center of the Hanford Site, has been restricted to protect employees

*  *  *

As we detailed previously, radioactive leak problems at the Hanford Site, a nuclear storage tank in Washington State, are nothing new.

We first wrote about the ongoing radioative leakage at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, created as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb, in 2013.


As a reminder, during the Cold War, the project was expanded to include nine nuclear reactors and five large plutonium processing complexes, which produced plutonium for most of the 60,000 weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Alas, the site has been leaking ever since, as many of the early safety procedures and waste disposal practices were inadequate and Hanford's operations released significant amounts of radioactive materials into the air and the neighboring Columbia River.


Hanford's weapons production reactors were decommissioned at the end of the Cold War, but the decades of manufacturing left behind 53 million US gallons of high-level radioactive waste, an additional 25 million cubic feet of solid radioactive waste, 200 square miles of contaminated groundwater beneath the site and occasional discoveries of undocumented contaminations.


The Hanford site represents two-thirds of the nation's high-level radioactive waste by volume. Today, Hanford is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and is the focus of the nation's largest environmental cleanup. The government spends $2 billion each year on Hanford cleanup — one-third of its entire budget for nuclear cleanup nationally. The cleanup is expected to last decades.

However, as Krugman would say, the government was not spending nearly enough, and after a major documented leak in 2013, over the weekend, thousands of gallons of radioactive waste are estimated to have leaked from the Site once again, triggering an alarm and causing one former worker to label it as "catastrophic."

As AP reported, the expanded leak was first detected after an alarm went off at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation on Sunday, and on Monday workers were preparing to pump the waste out of the troubled area. They were also trying to determine why the leak became worse.

It’s unclear exactly how much waste spilled out, but estimates place the amount at somewhere between 3,000 and 3,500 gallons, according to the Tri-City Herald.

The problem occurred at the double-wall storage tank AY-102, which has the capacity to hold one million gallons of the deadly waste, and which has been leaking since 2011. At the time, the leak was "extremely small", and the waste would dry up almost right after spilling out between the inner and outer walls, leaving a salt-like substance behind.

However, over time the small leak got bigger.

In March, the US Department of Energy began pumping what was left in the storage tank, which originally held some 800,000 gallons of waste. However, after leak detector alarms sounded early Sunday morning, crews at Hanford lowered a camera into the two-foot-wide space between the tank's inner and outer walls. They discovered 8.4 inches of radioactive and chemically toxic waste has seeped into the annulus.


Pumping work on the tank has been halted as officials reevaluate the situation and figure out how to get to the leaked radioactive waste. It’s possible that the leak was made worse when the pumping began, but that has not been confirmed.


Taking a page right out of the TEPCO playbook, the U.S. Department of Energy released a statement Monday calling the leak an "anticipated" outcome of an ongoing effort to empty the tank in question. The Washington state Department of Ecology said, "There is no indication of waste leaking into the environment or risk to the public at this time."

But one former tank farm worker said the leak should be considered a major problem.

"This is catastrophic. This is probably the biggest event to ever happen in tank farm history. The double shell tanks were supposed to be the saviors of all saviors (to hold waste safely from people and the environment),” said former Hanford worker Mike Geffre.

He should know: Geffre is the worker who first discovered that the tank, known as AY-102, was failing in 2011. In a 2013 series, “Hanford’s Dirty Secrets," the KING 5 Investigators exposed that the government contractor in charge of the tanks, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), ignored Geffre’s findings for nearly a year. The company finally admitted the problem in 2012.

Another problem: tank AY-102 is just one of 28 double-shell tanks at Hanford (there are 177 underground tanks total) holding nuclear byproducts from nearly four decades of plutonium production on the Hanford Nuclear Site, located near Richland. Initially the plutonium was used to fuel the bombed dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in World War II.

The new leak poses problems on several fronts. The outer shell of AY-102 does not have the exhaust or filtration system needed to keep the dangerous gases created by the waste in check. Workers have been ordered to wear full respiratory safety gear in the area, but the risk remains. And unlike Fukushima where cleanup crews are aware of the danger, in Hanford virtually nobody is aware of the dangers of the radioactive seepage.


"The hazards to workers just went up by a factor of 10,” said Geffre.

The breakdown calls into question the viability of three other double-shell tanks at Hanford that have the exact design of AY-102. It is not clear how many of them may have comparable "extremely small" leaks which have gotten bigger, and even if there was it is likely that the DOD would not reveal them.

"The primary tanks weren't designed to stage waste like this for so many years,” said a current worker. “There’s always the question, ‘Are the outer shells compromised’”?

Oh, and let's not forget that the accumulation of waste in the outer shell also means "the deadliest substance on earth is that much closer to the ground surrounding the tank. And currently there is no viable plan in place to take care of it."

Or, as Ben Bernanke would say, the Plutonium is contained.

"It makes me sad that they didn’t believe me that there was a problem in 2011,” said Geffre. “I wish they would have listened to me and reacted faster. Maybe none of this would be happening now. It’s an example of a culture at Hanford of 'We don’t have problems here. We’re doing just fine.’ Which is a total lie,” said Geffre.

Dear Mike, if you think that is bad, you should see what they say about the "markets"...

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Not Too Important's picture

We're waay past needing anything like this now. Going forward it's just nuclear demographic math.

. . . _ _ _ . . .'s picture

Thorium. Look it up.

Write your governors, your congress.

Molten Salt Reactor - Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor - LFTR (pronounced 'lifter')

Excellent documentary on the topic here. (387 minutes)

Super long, but the first 1 1/2 should suffice. (See Clinton and Kerry defend the status quo, the unsafe nuclear industry, at about 1:16:15.)

Safe nuclear is a possibility, but John Kerry and Bill Clinton said no... long ago.

BrownCoat's picture

The only safe nuclear reactor is about 92,955,807 miles away.

Fu<king apes have proved time and again they cannot safely use nuclear energy.

Dinosaurs, apes, next up to bat are the cockroaches.  

TuPhat's picture

You are one of the cockroaches.  If we are to scared to move on with nuclear we will soon have nothing and will have to live like cockroaches.

Not Too Important's picture

Cockroaches, then finally radiation-eating bacteria.

The Earth will look like Mars, in great part because of mankind's obsession with nuclear power.

. . . _ _ _ . . .'s picture

LFTR cannot explode, does not pollute - in fact it can run on nuclear waste thus cleaning it up, and is fed with dirt... literally.

It can be used to make hydro-carbons our cars and planes already run on. It can also be used to make fresh water.

"But it is called 'nuclear' power, so it must be bad!" Nonsense.


"The only safe nuclear reactor is about 92,955,807 miles away."

Stars explode, you know. I don't know if "safe" is the right word.

Mountainview's picture

Crumbling infrastructure= USA=Trump's priority to make America great again... At least it should be a priority.

AldousHuxley's picture

Make work communist style.


Countrybunkererd's picture

If you wanted to contain the news of a significant emergency but had to update would it sound like this?  You just CAN'T get good help these days.

09 May 2017
1:35 PM --



Non-essential employees in the vicinity of this morning’s emergency event, an area known as the 200 East Area, have been released from work early. All non-essential personnel north of the Wye Barricade have now been released from work early. Workers on swing shift at the Hanford Site who are not needed for essential site operations this evening are being told not to come into work tonight, as officials determine how to address a partial cave-in of a tunnel near a facility in the center of the site that was discovered this morning. Workers considered essential for site operations are being told to report to work while avoiding the area of the emergency.





Countrybunkererd's picture

Just wondering.  How could you get the attention of all the boys and girls essential before a nuclear exchange at once without causing panic? 

Not Too Important's picture

For what point? There are no public nuclear shelters to put anyone. US.gov spent it all on shelters for themselves, and their rich friend's families.

No one gets below without an invite.

Now, Putin has been building and stocking public nuclear shelters for some time now. And he's the 'enemy'?

BrownCoat's picture

@ Countrybunkererd,

Anti-Fa stifles free speech like a JV team. The nuclear industry can control information better than anyone else!

Stuck on Zero's picture

They need to surround Hanford with ice walls immediately.

Troy Ounce's picture


That's right. And Nagasaki & Hiroshima were thriving cities 10 years after a nuke exploded in their city centres.  

Nuclear fallout is not so bad. 

Thought Processor's picture



I'm sure it's nothing.  Nuclear energy is completely safe people.  Please keep repeating that to yourself.  


Unless you factor in the accidents (major one averaging every 7 YEARS!) and the problem of storing the most toxic substance known (please note that no one has solved this particular minor problem yet......).


Move along now....

Ignatius's picture

"I'm not saying we won't get our hair mussed.  What I'm saying is 10 to 20 million killed, tops, depending on the breaks." 

  --  General Buck Turgeson

Thought Processor's picture



I love that damn movie.


Kubrick was a genius.  

Stanley Kubrick's picture


Time for the sequel?

Here's the punchline - we're all starring in it.

. . . _ _ _ . . .'s picture

Thanks, just watched Dr. S.

Outstanding. Have heard about it all my life, never realized it was Kubrick and Sellers. If I had, I would have watched it years ago.

Not Too Important's picture

And to think that was supposed to be 'satire'...

The Pentagon really thinks the US can survive a multiple nuclear strike. Hell, three atmospheric blast EMP's and we're all dead or dying within two weeks.

Madison&#039;s_Ghost's picture

2 things.

One, this facility is the result of weapons develpment not energy generation.

Two, there are plenty of nuclear reactor designs that dont involve the toxic waste problems our current reactors do - which were chosen specifically because their designs would complement the production of weapons grade materials.

any_mouse's picture

Exactly. The whole civilian nuclear energy program was/is geared towards producing weapon grade materials.

Electric power generation was the ruse to get Americans to accept the plants in their backyard.

War Pigs.

Those "by products" and "waste materials" are the primary outputs.

Think auto bailouts and then think who makes the heavy armor.

Think they were bailed out to make cars?

AGuy's picture

"The whole civilian nuclear energy program was/is geared towards producing weapon grade materials. Electric power generation was the ruse to get Americans to accept the plants in their backyard."

Nope. The US produced all its Weapon grade material at its military facilities (Hanford, oak ridge, Savannah River, etc). LWR reactors don't produce sufficient amounts of Plutonium (not worth the effort). The spent fuel at LWR remains on site in spent fuel pools or in caskets. Its never been processed to extract Plutonium.

Chupacabra-322's picture

@ Aguy,

Weapons Grade Material.

Because the World isn't covered enough in DU?

"I say we take off, Nuke the site from Orbit. It's the only way to be sure."
-Corporal Hicks, from the film Aliens.

Or at the Fuck'n bear minimum pour Cement into that Mother Fucker.

BrownCoat's picture

@ Aguy,

Check your history. any_mouse is correct.  The Manhattan Project could not generate enough plutonium, so they went with the current nuclear energy path.

BrownCoat's picture

@ Madison's_Ghost,


Two more things:

1. Nuclear energy is not safe.

2. You have shit for brains.

Just Another Vietnam Vet's picture

Hey, this sb NO problem at all.......just a tunnel collapse, might of been the Russians.  

And Most folks with any sense stopped eating most seafood  like tuna and salmon long ago.  

But that was from the Fukushima sunami probem. ( all localized to the coast of Japan we are informed )  

And MOST IMPORTANT..........

All the newer reactors are all safe.  We have been told so by everyone involved and those with powerful oversight.

It all regulated folks.   

And Damn, that tunnel was designed under the best rules n regs that the best gobermint money could buy.

No doubt, now we now have the green light and a reason to build lots of the newer, safer reactors.

The hell with dangerous COAL, that stuff pollutes the environment. !!!!!!!!!!

Mr. Bones's picture


tl;dr - 1.1 billion gallons of waste containing toxic heavy metals dumped in to the water table of Appalachia and the South East US.

We need to transition away from coal, if the Chinese want to keep burning it let us sell it to them.

logicalman's picture

In 2015, Finland announced a plan to build THE WORLD'S FIRST PERMANENT STORAGE FACILITY!

Looks like it will be over-budget from day 2 and even when finished will only hold about 7,000 tons of high level waste.

So, as of right now, not a single pound of high level stuff has gone into permanent (hopefully) storage.

Some of the crap has half lives in the billions of years. Permanent better mean just that.

Not Too Important's picture

Check out WCS in Texas. Massive surface storage of high-level nuclear waste. In a tornado zone.

booboo's picture

Just take a look at the sign above in the article and that should tell you all you need to know about their maintenance program.

rubiconsolutions's picture

899 years? More like - "Twenty radioactive isotopes of plutonium have been characterized. The longest-lived are plutonium-244, with a half-life of 80.8 million years, plutonium-242, with a half-life of 373,300 years, and plutonium-239, with a half-life of 24,110 years. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than 7,000 years. This element also has eight metastable states, though all have half-lives less than one second."

Urban Roman's picture

Thing about all those long-lived isotopes is that they are not very radioactive. It's the short-lived ones that are really hot.

You can hold a piece of Pu-239 in your hand, and it's only barely warm (or so I've heard). It gives off a little alpha radiation, but as long as you don't eat any of it, you'll be fine. Not much stronger than the natural radioactivity from your own body.

The thing that kills you in the spent fuel rods is medium-life isotopes like Cs-137. Half life of about 30 years, meaning it is extrememly 'hot' radiation-wise. Gives off powerful gamma rays. The fuel rods make the cooling water glow around them, from Cerenkov radiation (secondary to the high-power beta rays it gives off). That particular isotope is water-soluble and somewhat volatile in air, such that it inevitably escapes when spent fuel rods are broken. Japan has managed to pollute the entire Pacific Ocean with that isotope, which it still spews from the wreckage at Fukushima. And it's one of the ones that will kill you if you are standing near a spent fuel rod. Within a few minutes if the rod is recently removed from the reactor.

So, it's those 30-year isotopes that do the damage. And they are down to a millionth of their oiginal strength after 20 half lives, about 500 years.

Not Too Important's picture

The ultimate question is, how much aerosolized enriched uranium and plutonium was thrown up into the wind? And how much more is there?

Similar to the WIPP disaster, only most likely far worse, especially if it's still on-going, such as the wind whipping across the hole and sucking more nuclear waste up and out.

Countrybunkererd's picture

FAA cites national security.  Not radiation contamination.

Offthebeach's picture

Thank God, Greenspan,  Bernanke and Yellin that after 19 trillion fiat the nation's roads, tunnels are the wonder of the world.

Not Too Important's picture

The big question is, everyone at the top knew this was going to happen, yet nothing has ever been done, and now it's to the point much of it is past the point of repair, and needs to be torn down and replaced.

Decades of skimming bond money, across the entire country. And now there's no money to do shit.

ReasonForLife's picture

Here's a filter system that removes Uranium/Plutonium from drinking water, may come in handy right about now for some:


Dick Gazinia's picture

They could use those in Flint, MI

mccvilb's picture

Dousing it with FRNs? Tis a pretty safe bet that was how they got here. Depends on what the meaning of it is.

toady's picture

Shits getting bad. Three more weeks till we're in the undisclosed location for the summer.... hope society doesn't crumble before then!

I can't get thru a day without having a run-in with some random asshole. Sometimes two or three times a day. 

Who would have thought that society would break down before the financial system? 

xavi1951's picture

You sound like an asshole magnet.  What is the common denominator?

Joe Davola's picture

Bad idea t-shirts - start printing these up today:

You sound like an asshole magnet

AGuy's picture

"You sound like an asshole magnet. What is the common denominator?"

He works near DC :)

giorgioorwell's picture

Sounds like you're the one who's going to break down first.

toady's picture

Try this one... I'm riding down the street coming back from the store with the wife & kids. We're in the neighborhood, no middle yellow line, no oncoming traffic,  so  I am kinda going down the middle of the street, you know, in case a kid jumps out from behind a parked car. 

About a hundred yards down the street I see a bicycle come out of a. Driveway. I gradually drift to "my side" of the street, although I'm clearly not all the way over the middle line. I mean, how much room does a bicycle need? 

When the guy on the bike is about twenty yards away he suddenly cuts over to run right into the front of my car, then darts back at the last second, waving his fist in the air, yelling "get the fuck out of the street!"

I did nothing wrong. For a split second I was gonna chase him down and beat his ass, but the wife and kids were scared, so I relaxed and drove home. The wife is still freaked out. She wants to move now because "the neighborhood has turned bad".

giorgioorwell's picture

Sounds like your neigbhorhood is the problem based on this and your grocery store story...there have always been bad neighborhoods, always will be but if your's is "turning" better to get out now before the real estate prices start to reflect that. Good luck in finding safer digs.

Mustafa Kemal's picture

"I can't get thru a day without having a run-in with some random asshole. Sometimes two or three times a day. "

I see a few aholes, but I never have run-ins. Not sure I can tell you my secret, but I was raised to be nice, even to assholes. Has worked pretty well for me.