The Latest: Energy chief pledges investigation into collapse
Posted May 10
RICHLAND, Wash. — The Latest on a tunnel collapse at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state (all times local):
U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says his agency will conduct a study to determine what led to the collapse of a tunnel at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state.
Perry said Wednesday that the tunnel obviously deteriorated and the question that needs to be answered now is why that was allowed to happen.
Perry made the comments during a tour of Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico, another one of the federal sites dealing with the cleanup of Cold War-era waste from decades of bomb-making and nuclear research. Los Alamos was among the federal installations that helped develop the first atomic bomb during World War II.
Perry acknowledged the problem with nuclear waste, saying the nation can no longer kick the can down the road since American lives and the health of some citizens are in jeopardy.
He said the federal government has failed over the years to remove the waste in a timely manner.
He pledged to make progress on a multibillion-dollar problem that has transcended previous administrations.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the state plans to issue an order requiring the federal government to determine the cause of a tunnel collapse at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state.
The enforcement action announced Wednesday also requires the Energy Department to assess if there's an immediate risk of failures in any other tunnels and take actions to safely store waste in the tunnels until a decision is made about how to permanently handle the material.
The federal agency was expected to take those actions without prodding, but the state made the move in its role as the regulator of a massive, ongoing cleanup of the site.
Inslee says the state has an obligation to protect its residents and that the action is appropriate and necessary.
The state and federal government signed an agreement in 1989 setting deadlines for Hanford cleanup activities. The state monitors activities at Hanford as part of that deal.
The Energy Department says no one was injured in the unoccupied tunnel, and no radioactive material escaped into the environment.
The White House said Wednesday that the response to a tunnel collapse at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state "is moving from the emergency phase toward the recovery phase."
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House deputy press secretary, says the federal government remains confident there was no airborne release of radiation and no workers were exposed after Tuesday's collapse of an underground tunnel containing waste.
Non-essential workers at the Hanford site near Richland, Washington, which employs some 9,000 people, were told to stay home Wednesday.
Workers on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation are making preparations to fill a 400-square foot (37 square meters) hole that has developed over a tunnel containing radioactive waste stored on the former plutonium production site.
The U.S. Department of Energy said Wednesday that workers were building a gravel road to reach the cave-in, located in the middle of the sprawling reservation in eastern Washington state.
The agency says the road will give workers a clear path to fill the collapsed portion of the tunnel, which was discovered Tuesday morning.
The Energy Department says no one was injured in the unoccupied tunnel, which has been sealed for decades, and no radioactive material escaped into the environment.
But non-essential workers at the Hanford site, which employs some 9,000 people, were told to stay home Wednesday.
The collapse of an underground tunnel containing radioactive waste that forced workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to shelter in place is the latest incident to raise safety concerns at the sprawling site that made plutonium for nuclear bombs for decades after World War II.
Washington state Department of Ecology spokesman Randy Bradbury says officials detected no release of radiation Tuesday and no workers were injured.
Officials say no workers were inside the tunnel when it collapsed, causing soil on the surface above to sink 2 to 4 feet (half to 1.2 meters) over a 400 square foot (37 square meters).
Worker safety has long been a concern at Hanford, which is located about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southeast of Seattle.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit last fall against the Energy Department, contending vapors released from underground nuclear waste tanks posed a serious risk to workers.