"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...

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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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freedogger's picture

Fuck man, barge that shit out to a subduction zone and sink it.

Fake Trump's picture

Trump's jinx. My goodness this is a serious matter. My prayers are with the people there.

agNau's picture

Let the west coast evacuation begin.
Must consolidate population on east coast.
If you think assimilating war refuges into a foreign population is bad, wait until they do the same with Californians.

Pew Pew Pew's picture

Another Eminent Domain success story...

homebody's picture

Need to call the Russians.  They are expert at building a radiation proof sarcophagus.   But what will Starfucks do when power is cut.

youngman's picture

I bet there are no rats in those tunnels......and that light you see is not the end of it...just a radioactive glow....

ChanceIs's picture

In a previous life I used to consult to the DOE on the viability of its nuclear facilities.  There was quite a bit of responsible concern to cleaning up and reducing the potential for waste spillage.  You wouldn't believe what the engineers accomplished back in the late '40s in building that complex.  Today it would take 50 years just to get the poermits.

Back in '87 they were talking 30 years and $30 billion to clean up Hanford.  People howled.  They said things like..."for that sort of dough, we could invade Iraq."

After a while I became convinced that the government wouldn't clean the waste up, because then there would be no jobs cleaning the waste up.  It is a fact that after Hanford and Savannah River closed as weapons manufacturing plants, they were declared environment site and the employment doubled.  You wouldn't believe the procrastination and gold bricking I saw.  "We can't use that process to fix that problem...much too dangerous."  Totally scandalous.  If you proposed something sensible to fix the waste problem you would be out of a job.

I doubt that this tunnel collapse is much of an issue.  Sure metals - in this case railroad cars - can become "activated" in the sense that the metal nucleii can catch  neutrons and then need to decay back down by various decay mechanisms.  You wouldn't want to be turned into an xray plate by standing too close.  By the same token, there wouldn't be any "release."  Railroad cars can't become airborne - absent tornadoes.


You can be sure that by Monday about $100 million of contracts would have been let to study the effects of tornadoes in the area and whether a rail car can be thrown from Hanford into Harry Reid's backyard in Nevada.  Speaking of Harry, I wonder if he is having any more problems with his exercise equipment.  I still think he stiffed a hooker.  Oh.  That was good.  Stiffed a hooker.

WillyGroper's picture

"I still think he stiffed a hooker."


jim willie claims he made a pass at michael at wh rainbow party & got thumped by the big (O).

ChanceIs's picture

Have Barry and Michael been seen together since Barry had to leave THTSB (the house that slaves built)?

WillyGroper's picture


sure trying to keep up the illusion tho.

pics of michael photoshopped to appear heshe joined himher in tahiti was a good guffaw.

what's with that right angle on the surf board,  nasty burn on the shoulder, shading on inner thigh looks like heshe sat on a hot stove, right leg looks sewn on from the hip & heshe musta been hungry cuz nothin left of that right forearm with the white hand.

you'd think with all those ill gotten gains they could hire a graphic artist with better skills.

Internet-is-Beast's picture

Love the new pronouns. Thems keepers!

Born2Bwired's picture

I laugh at all the "Green People" who talk about Climate Change and Global Warming. Have yet to run into anyone who mentioned what 440 nuclear reactors worldwide that are about forty years old much less sites like Hanford that are 60 years old and no idea how to contain them. Or at least will to get it accomplished.

Somehow I don't expect the World will end based on CO2 and the temperature going up a couple degrees, not that I believe that BS anyway. 

Since Fukishima have they even moved all the spent fuel rods away from existing reactors to a Yucca Mountain? No, the issues have not been addressed it seems.

ChanceIs's picture

The nature of the problem at Hanford is that the weapons process requires the irradiation of "target rods" in a reactor specially designed to have a large neutron flux from fuel rods.  The target rods (and spent fuel rods) are then dissolved in acid baths in the "canyons" with chmical separation tricks applied to make all of the good stuff - plotunium - go in a corner away from the bad stuff.  The fuel rods will also internally produce some plutonium as is the case in commercial reactors.  The waste stream - generally an acidic suspension of the "daughters - cesium, strontium, etc - gets pumped out of the canyons.  Somewhere it is mixed with a "base" to react with the acid to become ph neutral and form a salt.  That is what is in most of the tanks.  They really kept no accounting of the waste stream contents.  In general they know what is out there.

The chief strategy is to mix the waste with sand and then melt the entire mass to form a solid glass.  Reference was made to the "vitirfication plant."  It sounds as if it hasn't been built yet.  It was being planned back in '87.  As I indicated at the top of the chain, if this were 1949 the thing would have been designed and built in one year.

Commercial fuel rods are a different story.  In general they are structurally stable and manageable after six months of being removed from the reactor.  In the weapons process, they had about a sixty seconds time window to get the rods from the reactor into a cooling tank car and then sixty at the other end to go from the tank car to the acid bath.  If you held them in the air for 70 seconds they would melt from the decay heat.  That is why at  Fukushima, the storage tanks were on top of the reactors.  They sure as hell should have gotten them out of there at the first opportunity.  On American nuke sites after six months, the rods are stored in special containers, "casks," on the surface which allow air circulation but provide mechanical protection.  They can really stay where they are indefinitely.  Still a good idea to put them in Yucca.

The really cool thing about Yucca is that the rods are basically safe.  They contain cermaic pellets.  Ceramics are very stable.  Harry Reid didn't want them because there would be jokes about Nevada being a waste dumping ground, and real estate prices in Los Vegas  would drop.  After the '07 bubble real estate prices crashed anyway.  That was a big F-you from Yucca to Harry.  Harry like it when allof the government money was being spent to build Yucca.  But when it came time to using Yucca he cried like a stuck pig.  Waaaaaahhhh.  I never thought that they were actually going to put waste in Yucca!!!!



justanotherprogressive's picture

You are BSing me, right?  Sorry, I worked in that world for many many years....

ChanceIs's picture

Why would I BS you?  What specifically sounds like BS?

What I described is basically what is going on.  I got out of that business in '00.  Vitrification was the choice for waste treatment.  It was being implemented at the Fernald, Ohio plant as early as 1991 when I just got into that business. I believe it was the choice for Hanford.  The big problem was getting the waste out of the underground tanks.  I worked on a 35 foot robot arm which was going to be dropped down the manways into the tanks to retrieve the waste.  That was a beast.  I doubt it was ever built.

justanotherprogressive's picture

You were a consultant for DOE?   Perhaps you should review your plutonium chemistry?  And how quickly plutonium can become airborne?   It isn't activated metals that they are worried about, those they just have to isolate - no need to declare an emergency for activated metals, is there?.  Especially since Hanford has a portion of its site dedicated to burying activated metals.   They don't declare an emergency every time a barge or semi brings them that activated metals, do they? 

Remember this is a tunnel from Purex, and if you were a consultant you must know what they did at Purex.......and why Purex is so hard to clean up.....

ChanceIs's picture

The article gets updated frequently.  At first they were only talking about rail cars.  Now they are getting a little more specific.

Yes of course plutonium is pyrophoric and gets airborne with the heat of the oxidation reaction.  But any elemental plutonium would have oxidized long ago.  Those tunnels were never designed to be air tight, and the oxide is easier to handle.  Further down the line they do the reduction process to make the pure metal "buttons."

The tunnel in question is probably one from the production reactors or canyons to Purex and carried rail tank cars.  I was never at Hanford.  At Savannah River, the tank cars ran in the open on the surface between the reactors and the canyons.

The canyons at Savannah River were kept at negative pressure even after they were shut down circa 1990.  They probably are still kept at negative pressure today.  Huge exhaust fans are deployed downstream of two football field size, 30 foot deep, underground filter beds.  I was told that it was sae to walk on the surface of those beds, whiuch was probably 10 feet below grade.

Was Hanford actively keeping these tunnels at negative pressure?  I have no idea.  At SRS, all of the flow was from the offices down to the hotest points in the dissolving cells.  If the same reasoning applied at Hanford, the tunnels would be at elevated pressure relative to PUREX.  There might be some "holdup" on the tunnel walls, but I wouldn't think very much if any.  If the cars were tank cars carying target rods - unlikely - or some plutonium bearing compound, then for sure the cars would become activated.  This is not a problem unless you want to move them to downtown Hanford for a nuclear waste museum.  

ProsperD9's picture

It's on its way folks...they need a catastrophe to distract people from the collapsing economy. If they can pull off 9/11 they will do anything!

Stopdreaming's picture

Hey folks...how's about some Washington state apple pie and bing cherries...they even glow in the dark! Yummy

Aireannpure's picture

Mexican tunnel experts tunneling from Canada made a wrong turn somewhere. Hi on BC kush.

Aireannpure's picture

Mexican tunnel experts tunneling from Canada made a wrong turn somewhere. Hi on BC kush.

Omega_Man's picture

it begins.......

WillyGroper's picture

"some workers were being evacuated while others were advised to shelter-in-place."

NLRB is sure to get involved if the sip's were not provided scissors.

J Jason Djfmam's picture

Whities are evacuated.

Darkies are advised to shelter in place.

Life's a bitch.

Able Ape's picture

When you're handling the most poisonous substance in the known Universe, why build anything BUT substandard, shoddy infrastructure!  "Yo Jimmy, we saved a bunch by drilling this substandard tunnel that will probably collapse...."

JethroBodien's picture

Cleanup??  What cleanup??  How do they plan on disposing of contaminated materials??  Move to another location??  Epic fucking farce

Gert_B_Frobe's picture

Bury it under the new border wall.

Jerdog's picture

Looks like a prime target for one of Trump's infrastructure projects......    

Gen. Ripper's picture

Kushner enterprises just purchased a Decon unit

sauldaddy's picture

Yeah and it's a Big Mystery to scientist why babies in that area are being born without BRAINS!

RDouglas's picture

Bah, I grew up swimming in the Columbia just down stream from Hanford and my brain is fine.

any_mouse's picture

There's work for the Somali refugees.

U4 eee aaa's picture

Fortunately there are millions of illegal workers willing to work low wages to clean this mess up!

Handful of Dust's picture

I hope those cleanup people save the smelt as top priority!

U4 eee aaa's picture

Why don't they just take all this contaminated water and build a moat along the Mexican border?

Livingstrong's picture

Why don´t you shove it all up your filthy American buttocks, huh? You are going down the toilet anyways. You and your country are a dirty waste already. So there. Keep it and shove it. 

Chet Ricco's picture

You sound upset, here...... have a burrito on the house.

U4 eee aaa's picture

Another good reason not to own property in Vancouver

How to make a 2 million $ property go to zero....FAST!

44_shooter's picture

Trump and the Russians strike again. The only way I can see to fix this is to not build the wall and grant amnesty to all the Mexicans.

Kefeer's picture

And take away all the guns.

Livingstrong's picture

Only shitty mexicans want to go to your filthy country, the fascist USA. Decent mexicans stay in Mexico making Mexico properous and free of FAKE NEWS. LOL, you do the filthy job, you get radioactive and the stoopid mexicans who want to be there with you. ugh. both deserve each other.

tuetenueggel's picture

If it spreads until the baja, it´s an invisible wall too. ( secret service wall )

Omega_Man's picture

so is ISIS going to blow it up and make it airborne? 

tuetenueggel's picture

So they won´t need camel turds any more to cook their coffee

SpanishGoop's picture

hot radioactive trains

You have everything in Merica.

Hot Wheels and hot trains.


ToSoft4Truth's picture

Mexicans are good at digging.  Really good. 

Livingstrong's picture

That is American shit, made by shitty Americans....Americans GET TO DIGG...NOW!