Breaking: Central Hanford nuclear workers remain under take cover order

Stacy Lee

RICHLAND, WA
Hanford nuclear reservation workers were ordered to take cover indoors Friday morning in an area near the center of the 580-square-mile site.

9:30 a.m.
Crews were being outfitted with protective gear and filtered air respirators as they prepared to approach the PUREX radioactive waste storage tunnel area where steam had been spotted coming from the tunnel.

They will take radiological surveys and start the generators to power lights and cameras inside the tunnel and air sampling equipment to further assess conditions inside and outside of the tunnel.

The Department of Energy continues to say the take cover order is precautionary and that no emergency has been declared. The Emergency Operations Center has not been activated.

9:25 a.m.
A planned National Park Service tour of historic B Reactor was canceled Friday because of the take cover order.

Energy Northwest had planned a tour for leaders of its member utilities and others attending a public forum in Richland this week.

B Reactor is several miles from the area where workers were ordered to stay inside.

B Reactor near the Columbia River, the world’s first production-scale nuclear reactor, is part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

9:05 a.m.
A team was being assembled to go into the work area of the PUREX storage tunnel to investigate after steam was noticed coming from the tunnel.

The steam was spotted coming from a small building at the end of the 1,700-foot-long tunnel closest to the PUREX plant.

The building houses equipment to move a large door that was opened to allow railcars loaded with radioactive waste to be pushed into the tunnel from the mid 60s until 1996. The tunnel holds 28 railcars.

The door is 24 feet high, 22 feet wide and 7 feet thick.

About 3,300 workers are in the 200 East Area where the take cover order is issued on a typical Hanford work day. However, many workers work 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday, so the number of workers in the area Friday was not immediately known.

Some employees scheduled to work in central Hanford may not have arrived at work before the take cover order was issued.

The take cover order remains in place as a precaution.

8:30 a.m.
A take cover alert was issued at 6:03 a.m. in the 200 East Area. It included workers building the $17 billion vitrification plant.

At 8:30 a.m. the take cover order remained in place as a precaution, according to the Department of Energy.

Steam had been seen coming from a place it was not expected at the PUREX plant tunnel storing obsolete or unusable equipment that is highly contaminated with radioactive waste.

Work has been underway to fill the tunnel with concrete-like grout to stabilize it after it was found to be at risk of collapse. The work began at the start of the month but had not begun yet Friday morning.

There is no immediate indication of a release of radioactive material, according to a message to workers.

The issue appeared to be limited to the immediate vicinity of the tunnel. DOE said an emergency had not been declared.

The Department of Energy said the tunnel needed to be filled because there was a risk of particles of radioactive material becoming airborne if the tunnel failed and exposed the waste it held to the atmosphere.

Another PUREX plant tunnel partially collapsed in May 2017. No airborne release of radioactive material was reported then. That tunnel was filled with grout in November to prevent further collapse.