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Additional tunnel collapse possible at Hanford nuclear site

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Richland, Wash -- The Department of Energy says the possibility of an additional tunnel collapse still exists at the Hanford nuclear site in southeast Washington State.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017 workers discovered a 400-square foot sinkhole in the roof of a tunnel that stored contaminated equipment leftover from decades of nuclear weapons production. The hole has since been filled with 53 truckloads of dirt.

At a Saturday morning press conference, DOE spokesman Doug Shoop said they're still at risk of another failure as the 360-foot long concrete and wood structure has not been shored up.

To mitigate the risk of a radioactive release in the event of a second collapse, workers will place a heavy, industrial tarp over the entire length of the tunnel in the coming days.

All indications show there was no release of radioactive contamination in the original collapse, which may have gone unnoticed for as long as four days.

The tunnel served the now-decommissioned PUREX facility, which reprocessed spent nuclear fuel. It is one of several tunnels on the site, but most are more robust and made of concrete and steel instead of wood.

Once the PUREX facility was decommissioned, the tunnel was sealed with the contaminated equipment still inside.

On May 10th, 2017 the state Department of Ecology issued an "enforcement action" against the DOE, ordering it to determine the cause of the collapse and to take steps to prevent future accidents.


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