MAY 16, 2017 4:30 PM PDT

Transport Tunnel Partially Collapses at Hanford Nuclear Site

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan

A nuclear material processing facility overseen by the Department of Energy declared emergency May 9, due to the partial collapse of its transport tunnel. Inside the tunnel, there are railcars loaded with radioactive wastes.

Image credit: US Department of Energy, Hanford Nuclear Reservation

Image credit: US Department of Energy/Handout via REUTERS

Known for its acronym PUREX, the 200-acre Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant is a part of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeaster Washington State. It has been in operation since the mid-1950s - the beginning of the cold war. PUREX together with the Hanford nuclear reactors have been the work horse in producing and processing plutonium-239 (Pu-239), a fissile isotope that is commonly used in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. With over 70,000 tons of fuel rods processed during its operation, some scientists believed that PUREX holds the record for handling the most plutonium on the planet.

Even though being vacated for nearly 20 years, the facility remains highly contaminated. In fact the Hanford Site is considered the largest repository of radioactive waste in the United States. Due to the extreme low efficiency of production, massive wastes were generated in return for small amount of plutonium. Nowadays millions of gallons of radioactive wastes are still stored at the site. A lengthy and expensive process is in progress to clean up and decommission the entire area.

Pu-239 decays into uranium-235 by emitting alpha radiation / particles. Due to the low penetrating ability of its radiation, Pu-239 is not considered dangerous as external radiation source. However, once it is internalized for example by ingesting or inhaling, plutonium can cause radiation poisoning and cancers. 

A robotic device was sent to collect air and soil samples to monitor the possible release of radioactive wastes. Fortunately no sign of contamination has been detected yet. According to the Hanford Emergency Center, all employees there have been told to take cover for precautionary purpose. “No employees were hurt and there was no spread — no indication of a spread of radiological contamination," said the spoke person of emergency center. Some experts suspect that the vibration from nearby road work may have caused the tunnel roof to cave in, but the official statement was that it was still too early to know what the real cause was.

Image credit: Susannah Frame@SFrameK5, King Television

Additional information:

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/department-of-energy-to-evaluate-damage-hanford-did-to-environment/

http://www.businessinsider.com/hanford-nuclear-site-tunnel-collapse-2017-5

 

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
You May Also Like
OCT 17, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Improving carbon capture technologies using membranes
OCT 17, 2020
Improving carbon capture technologies using membranes
Researchers from the International Institute for Carbo-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER), Kyushu University and NanoMembr ...
NOV 05, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Researchers describe a new rule for why fish swim in schools
NOV 05, 2020
Researchers describe a new rule for why fish swim in schools
A study published in Nature Communications highlights a new explanation of how fish swim in schools, a technique they us ...
NOV 20, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
The Passing of a Neutrino Hunting Pioneer
NOV 20, 2020
The Passing of a Neutrino Hunting Pioneer
Masatoshi Koshiba, a revered Japanese physicist known for his groundbreaking work on cosmic neutrino detection, passed a ...
DEC 07, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
The fluid dynamics of your ride-sharing commute in the age of COVID-19
DEC 07, 2020
The fluid dynamics of your ride-sharing commute in the age of COVID-19
A team of scientists from Brown University has attempted to understand the potential of COVID-19 transmission within the ...
DEC 16, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Applying photocycloaddition to modify graphene
DEC 16, 2020
Applying photocycloaddition to modify graphene
Research published recently in the journal Nature Chemistry reports on the development of a new technique that uses ...
DEC 19, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Urine Tests Sets Parents' Minds at Ease in Minutes After a Miscarriage Threat
DEC 19, 2020
Urine Tests Sets Parents' Minds at Ease in Minutes After a Miscarriage Threat
Researchers have developed a chip-based test that can determine pregnancy outcomes after the signs of a possible miscarr ...
Loading Comments...