After Tuesday's apparent collapse of a railroad tunnel at the Purex Plant, officials now have to figure out what to do next.

Around 8:30am workers in the area noticed a depression that started out about 4 feet by 4 feet where the tunnels are present by the plant. The Purex plant removed uranium from fuel rods before being shut down in 1988.  The railroad car tunnels formerly used to shuttle the rods in and out were then used until the 1990's to 'bury' contaminated rail cars and other items. According to sources, some of the cars were so radioactive that empty cars were placed between the waste cars to protect the locomotive engineers. The cars were full of radioactive waste and other by products from the plant and other areas.

The depression expanded to an area of at least 20 by 20 feet, and a picture released by DOE shows the depression and what could be a hole in the ground. There's 8 feet of soil between the tunnels and the surface. Tests showed small readings of radiation emitting from the depressed area. The breach occurred in one of two tunnels that are more than 100 feet long. The testing continues by workers at the site.

The concern is when a tunnel collapses, it often exposes the inside. Officials are concerned a breach or break in the soil from a collapse could expose these highly radioactive buried items to the surface and air.

So, now officials have to figure out how to fix the hole. Some say adding more soil and protectants could press down and cause more compromise.  According to the Tri-City Herald, containing the waste in concrete and other stabilants is one method considered. DOE officials say removing the contaminated items for treatment and disposal is considered highly risky for the workers involved.

So basically, a tunnel used to store highly radioactive materials has been compromised, and officials will have to find a way to re-stabilize or deal with the issue. But again, so far, only small readings detected from the tunnel area.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said this incident reinforces the fact that the temporary measures DOE has used to deal with waste such as this for years "have limited life spans," whether it's using the steel tanks for reactor and other waste, or the underground tunnels.

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