Yakamas call for faster cleanup of Hanford tunnel

"This tunnel collapse is a clear example of why the Yakama Nation has concerns with the U.S. DOE continuously extending cleanup deadlines at the Hanford Nuclear Site", Goudy said in his statement.

The Hanford facility has some 9,000 employees, most of whom were told to stay home on Wednesday, Henderson said.

Safely removing it now is proving enormously expensive, slow-going, extraordinarily unsafe and so complex that much of the technology required simply does not exist. Now, there is a tunnel collapse in the region which is full of contaminated particles, which varies from radioactive train cars to other decommissioned transported fuel rods and will become very risky if it is not being contaminated as fast as possible.

The enforcement order legally requires the U.S. Department of Energy to determine the cause of the tunnel collapse, assess the risk of further collapses, ensure the radioactive and chemical waste in the tunnels is stored safely, and submit a plan for permanently cleaning up waste in the tunnels. The tunnel - which is made of wood and concrete and covered in 8 feet of soil - was constructed during the Cold War to hold rail cars loaded with equipment that had been contaminated in the process of plutonium production.

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"No action is now required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties", the Energy Department said on Tuesday, referring to the almost 300,000 residents near the site.

Radioactive materials were brought into the tunnel by rail cars for about a decade.

People were anxious that the radiations released from the tunnel may affect them especially that Hanford is close to Richland, around 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

The mishap occurred atop one of two rail tunnels under a plant located in the middle of the Hanford site. It has not been occupied in 20 years and remains contaminated by radioactivity. "This week's incident is a reminder that the men and women who work for the Department of Energy do incredible work, but that work does not come without risk".

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Meanwhile, Hanford employees continued to be told to stay home on Wednesday. The entire campus is in cleanup and decommissioning mode, as the DOE is dealing with the legacy of the US military's plutonium weapons production that was the Hanover site's primary objective from 1942 until 1987. Perry said Wednesday that the tunnel obviously deteriorated and the question that needs to be answered now is why that was allowed to happen. "(It would) be a three state disaster", Tom Carpenter with Hanford Challenge said.

Inslee said the situation had "stabilized" by Wednesday and that officials would continue to monitor air quality at the site.

The last reactor at Hanford shut down in 1987 and since then some 9,000 people have been working to clean up millions of gallons of leftover waste stored in 177 aging tanks.

There are calls from a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for an Energy Department brief the panel on the cause the collapse.

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