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
MAY 27, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Just add noise: improving AI decision-making
MAY 27, 2021
Just add noise: improving AI decision-making
New work on artificial intelligence from a collaboration between the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), the Univ ...
JUN 13, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
How to 3D print customizable artificial body parts and medical devices
JUN 13, 2021
How to 3D print customizable artificial body parts and medical devices
Researchers from the University of Nottingham have figured out a new 3D printing process technique that allows for the m ...
JUN 22, 2021
Space & Astronomy
An Unusual Galaxy Without Dark Matter
JUN 22, 2021
An Unusual Galaxy Without Dark Matter
Even though we still cannot detect dark matter, many researchers are confident that exists. It seems to act as a kind of ...
JUN 22, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Taking a Close Look at Interactions Between Cellular Filaments
JUN 22, 2021
Taking a Close Look at Interactions Between Cellular Filaments
Cells exist in three dimensions, and they have a dynamic skeleton and filaments that help them maintain and stabilize th ...
JUN 18, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
3D-printing new biocompatible biosensors
JUN 18, 2021
3D-printing new biocompatible biosensors
New 3D-printed bioinks developed by Purdue University and Los Alamos National Laboratory could improve surgical procedur ...
JUL 19, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
ATP & GTP Are Common in Biology - But What About CTP?
JUL 19, 2021
ATP & GTP Are Common in Biology - But What About CTP?
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a molecule that provides crucial energy to activate a wide array of biological processes ...
Loading Comments...