Hanford 2nd Tunnel Collapse Now “Anticipated” After Inspection
The threat level for the possibility of 2nd tunnel collapse that holds highly radioactive waste at Hanford has been elevated from "unlikely" to "anticipated" after a recent video inspection.
Not only is the possibility of collapse more likely, officials say the effects of a collapse could be much more severe then originally thought.
The video inspection showed lots of metal corrosion and that "neither tunnel inspected meets current codes for structural integrity", according to reports. The Department of Energy study shows that the supposedly stronger 2nd tunnel can not support the 8 feet of soil laying on top and is likely to collapse. The tunnels contain a mixture of highly 'hot' radioactive materials, including railroad cars loaded with contaminated equipment. It's considered too dangerous for workers to enter and clean up.
The 2nd tunnel is over 4 times longer then the shorter tunnel that collapsed in May 2017. The highest danger experts say is from the large beams that support the tunnel that could collapse and pierce containers holding waste. The tunnels were originally built to allow equipment to be removed and stored from the PUREX plant. When equipment broke or become obsolete and it was too large to remove and be buried elsewhere, it was loaded by remote crane onto or into railroad cars parked in the tunnels.
Hanford experts and officials want to fill the tunnel with a grout cement that will seal the waste until it can be removed by being cut into blocks. The Department of Ecology wants Hanford to wait until a public comment period has passed before starting the work.
Experts warn that if they wait to fix the problem, it might be too late. Being an agriculture region, a collapse could cause severe damage to this areas reputation and environment. Below are pictures (courtesy of DOE and flickr) of the tunnels shortly after their completion in the 1960's. Note the workers wearing radioactive protective gear.