Department of Energy terminates emergency at Hanford - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Department of Energy terminates emergency at Hanford

Posted: Updated:

UPDATE AT HANFORD - updates from hanford.gov The public can request information regarding the event by calling (509) 376-8116.

The Latest on a tunnel collapse at the 200 East area of Hanford (all times local):

UPDATE 5-11-17 12:17 a.m. -- The Site Area Emergency has been Terminated. The Hanford Site will be on a normal work schedule for day shift today (5/11/17) with the exception of personnel whose work reporting location is within the controlled access area around PUREX in the 200 East Area. Non-essential personnel working in the following facilities within this area are not to report to work today: 272AW; 274AW; 278AW; 2715AW; MO-149; MO-150; MO151; MO-493; MO-577; MO-266; MO-267; MO-268; MO-533; MO-2240; MO-2241; MO-2242 and MO-2243. Essential personnel working in these facilities need to report to 2750E. Employees should expect traffic revisions around PUREX, including the closure of South Canton Avenue. Employees who normally use South Canton Avenue to report to their work location are to use the north entrance to the 200 East Area off of Route 11A. If you have any questions regarding this direction, contact your manager.
For specific questions regarding company policy contact your manager.

The Hanford Vit Plant construction site is on normal work schedule for Thursday, May 11. Canton Ave near PUREX is closed. Employees should use Route 2S and Gate 31 to access the Vit Plant construction site.

For updated information, employees can call the Vit Plant employee hotline number at 373-3333.

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UPDATE 11:24 p.m. -- Crews at the Hanford Site have filled the hole in the tunnel near the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant (PUREX) with soil. Approximately 53 truckloads of soil, or approximately 550 cubic yards of soil, were used by crews to fill the hole.

Before allowing uncontrolled access to the area where the partial tunnel collapse occurred, officials plan to take additional near-term actions to ensure the safety of the workforce and the public. These actions may include placing a cover over the entire tunnel, which is approximately 360 feet long. Officials will also identify and implement longer-term actions. No radiological contamination was detected as a result of the collapse or while the hole was being filled. However, until additional actions can be taken to ensure safety, access to portions of the Hanford Site's 200 East Area will continue to be restricted.
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5-10-17 RICHLAND, WA - Reporter Rex Carlin spoke with Destry Henderson with the Hanford Communications Team earlier today who says around 20 people are out working on filling this hole out on the site as we speak.

Henderson says a large support staff of engineers and other staff are working on the project; a task not considered a quick fix.

"They're using an excavator to place soil, really scoopful by scoopful into the collapsed portion of the tunnel," Henderson said. "This will go on for several hours, likely into the night."

Work got underway early this morning as workers fill the 20 by 20-foot hole.

"The employees actually operating the heavy equipment are wearing protective suits," said Henderson. "They're breathing filtered air. The immediate site around it is controlled so there's no access. Support personnel are being kept at a safe distance away from the site."

All Hanford workers not involved in today's project at PUREX were told not to come into work today, and the status for tomorrow for workers is still unclear.

Investigators are still working on determining what the cause was, but since workers go in for routine maintenance in this area three to four times a week, they do believe that it actually happened sometime in the last couple of days.

___________

3:30 p.m.

    
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.
 

___________

12:50 p.m.
    
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.

__________
    
11:50 a.m.
    
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.
_________

9:37 AM -- Crews have begun filling a collapsed section of a rail car tunnel on the Hanford Site, located next to a former chemical processing facility known as the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant, or PUREX. The hole is being filled with soil using heavy equipment. Approximately 50 truckloads of soil will be used to stabilize that portion of the tunnel.

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Employees at Hanford are being told to follow the following work schedule for Wednesday, May 10th because of recovery actions in the 200 East Area:

- Non-essential employees north of the Wye Barricade are not to report to work today.

- All employees south of the Wye Barricade, including employees working in Richland – are on a regular work schedule

- Essential employees needed north of the Wye Barricade to maintain minimum safe operations are to follow their normal work schedule.

- 200 East Area WRPS essential personnel are to report to the 2750E facility.

- Route 4 South remains closed north of the Wye Barricade. Use alternate Route 2 North or the Rattlesnake Barricade.

- The Rattlesnake Barricade will remain open until 10:30 a.m.

- Hanford Vit Plant job site work is cancelled for today.

- All other Vit Plant staff on normal work schedule.

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5:58 PM --

In the 1950s and 1960s two tunnels were constructed next to a former chemical processing plant, the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant, or PUREX, located in an industrial area near the center of the Hanford Site called the 200 East Area. The tunnels were constructed of wood and concrete and covered with approximately 8 feet of soil. The tunnels were constructed to hold rail cars that were loaded with contaminated equipment and moved into the tunnels during the Cold War.

During a routine surveillance of the area this morning, a 20-foot-wide hole in the roof of one of the tunnels was observed, leading to the precautionary sheltering of employees and notifications to area counties and states. After no contamination was detected, the shelter in place order was lifted and employees were sent home from work early as a precaution. Workers continue to monitor the area for contamination as a crew prepares to fill the hole with clean soil.

The approximately 360-foot-long tunnel where the partial collapse occurred contains 8 rail cars loaded with contaminated equipment. That tunnel feeds into a longer tunnel that extends hundreds more feet and contains 28 rail cars loaded with contaminated equipment. The hole opened up in the shorter tunnel near where it joins the longer tunnel. The tunnels were sealed in the mid-1990s and are checked periodically.

Statement on the incident from DOE: "Secretary Perry has been briefed on the incident at DOE's Hanford site. Everyone has been accounted for and there is no initial indication of any worker exposure or an airborne radiological release. The Department will continue to monitor this closely and will provide information and updates as they become available.

Latest Information:

5:00 PM NEWSCAST UPDATE:

RICHLAND, WA - Reporter Rex Carlin was live from the Richland Federal Building, which was the hub of operations throughout today for the incident response team.

Just before 8:30 a.m. this morning, crews responded to reports of part of a tunnel used to store contaminated materials had caved in.

At 10:13, an update came out that a small group of employees doing routine maintenance in the area discovered the section of the tunnel is 20 feet by 20 feet in the 200 East area of the Hanford site, and area where around 3,000 people were working when it was discovered this morning.

The tunnel is located next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, known as PUREX.

"That prompted employees across the Hanford site again as a precautionary measure, to take cover," said Destry Henderson with the Hanford Emergency Operations Center.

Representatives from the Department of Energy say there is no sign of any spread of contamination beyond the impact area and nobody was injured or exposed to the contamination.

Just after noon, all employees on the site besides the 3,000 in the 200 East area were sent home as a precautionary measure, and throughout this afternoon workers within the 200 East area have been let go as well. 

"Assessing the situation, too early to tell what caused the portion of the tunnel roof to cave in," Henderson said.

Henderson says there isn't a timetable on when the investigation will be completed, but it could take an extended time frame. 

Various federal and state agencies are involved in finding out what exactly went wrong today.

At this point we don't have any word yet as to whether or not workers will be allowed back on the site for work tomorrow.

Today's event caused a lot of concern for public safety, and not just for workers on the site or nearby. Reporter Jaclyn Selesky was live from the Columbia River, where you can see sirens that go all the way from the Hanford site down to the Horn Rapids area. Emergency management teams can activate the sirens and even talk over them to give emergency instructions. The sirens didn't go off today because the event was far enough away from city limits and there was no threat to the public.

Jaclyn Selesky spoke with both Benton and Franklin Counties today to find out their procedures and protocols in these types of situations.

It was just about 8:30 this morning when the emergency management centers in Benton and Franklin Counties got the call about the tunnel breach at Hanford.

These operation centers act like a meeting place or hub for local fire, law, and elected officials to come together to make big decisions.

"It's for the decision-making process and to implement any decisions," said Sean Davis, Director of Franklin County Emergency Management.

Luckily, the situation stayed in the hands of the DOE. Davis said that there's four levels of an emergency. Today's event escalated but stayed at level three, or a site area emergency. If it was a general emergency, which poses a threat to the public, that's when they step in.

"So there was really no offsite consequences so we didn't have to do any protective actions," said Davis, "but we had everyone prepared just in case."

Throughout the year, there are multiple training exercises to prepare for situations like today, pushing local law and fire officials to make quick judgment decisions in the event of an actual emergency.

"We've also done training with our first responders, provided them radiological equipment," Davis said. "We've contacted residents, we have sirens all along the river that we can activate. Our area is pretty prepared, we're pretty fortunate."

"An example would be, actual boots on the ground example," said Deanna Davis, Benton County Emergency Manager. "Going to a specific spot and blocking the access to those roads. So we would use law enforcement, WSP depending on the road and actually block access to strategic roads and strategic spots throughout the county."

The emergency centers knew that this morning's incident was no threat to the general public, but they're always one step ahead just in case things take a turn for the worse. As for right now, counties are still on standby...monitoring the situation from their operation centers.

Benton and Franklin Counties weren't the only ones on standby for today's emergency. Walla Walla, Yakima, Grant, Adams, Umatilla, and Morrow County Emergency Management Crews were all notified and are also monitoring the situation.

They told Jaclyn it's going to be a long standby process, and right now DOE is trying to figure out a game plan to mitigate the current situation.

2:19 PM --

Workers on swing shift at the Hanford Site who are not needed for essential site operations this evening are being told to not come into work tonight, as officials determine how to address a partial cave-in of a tunnel near a facility in the center of the site that was discovered this morning. Workers considered essential for site operations are being told to report to work while avoiding the area of the emergency.

The tunnel is one of two constructed during the Cold War near the site’s Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant, or PUREX Plant, to store contaminated equipment from plutonium production operations at the site in southeastern Washington state. The tunnels were constructed of wood and concrete with a soil covering approximately 8 feet deep. The tunnels are located east of the PUREX Plant and extend to the south. The plant and tunnels are located near the center of the Hanford Site, in an area known as the 200 East Area.

During a routine surveillance of the area, a hole in the roof of one of the tunnels was discovered. Personnel in the immediate vicinity were evacuated as a precaution out of concern for the potential for the release of contamination. No contamination has been detected as a result of the partial cave-in of a section of the tunnel’s roof. Workers continue to monitor the area for contamination.

Officials declared an emergency for Hanford Site personnel and advised employees in the vicinity of the PUREX Plant to shelter indoors. The take cover was later expanded to Hanford Site employees within the security boundary of the government site north of Richland, Wash. At around noon, most of those employees were told to leave work early as a precaution. At around 1:35 the last of the employees in the vicinity of the tunnels were released from work early.

Officials continue to monitor the air and are working on how they will fix the hole in the tunnel roof. They are looking at options that would provide a barrier between the contaminated equipment in the tunnel and the outside air that would not cause the hole in the tunnel’s roof to widen.

1:35 PM --

Non-essential employees in the vicinity of this morning’s emergency event, an area known as the 200 East Area, have been released from work early. All non-essential personnel north of the Wye Barricade have now been released from work early. Workers on swing shift at the Hanford Site who are not needed for essential site operations this evening are being told not to come into work tonight, as officials determine how to address a partial cave-in of a tunnel near a facility in the center of the site that was discovered this morning. Workers considered essential for site operations are being told to report to work while avoiding the area of the emergency.

12:08 PM -- 

Hanford Emergency Update: employees from 100, 600, 200 West Area and LIGO have been released from work. Approximately 3,000 workers in the 200 East Area remain in a take cover.

There is still no indication of a release of contamination from the hole in the PUREX tunnel. Crews are continuing to monitor the air in the vicinity and have not detected contamination. Hanford Site employees north of the Wye Barricade and outside of the 200 East Area are now being released from work early as a precaution (as of 12:00 PM). Personnel in the 200 East Area remain sheltered in-place.

11:59 AM --

An alert was declared at the Hanford Site at 8:26 this morning. An alert is the lowest level of emergency classification and is declared when an event is not expected to affect personnel outside of the facility boundary. Later this morning, the alert was expanded to a Site Area Emergency. A Site Area Emergency is declared when the event is affecting or could potentially affect personnel beyond the facility boundary but not beyond the boundary of the Hanford Site.

11:24 AM --

The Department of Energy is preparing to hold a live briefing on its Hanford Site Facebook channel. You can view the briefing on the Hanford Site Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HanfordSite/). You can listen in to the briefing using (509) 376-3622 locally or 1-877-401-5229, but no questions will be taken over the phone. Please use the conference ID 54667239# to join the briefing.

11:13 AM --

Crews are currently surveying the area near the PUREX tunnels for contamination. Crews are using hand surveying techniques in the outer areas around the PUREX facility. At and near the area of subsidence crews have deployed a TALON, which is a remote operated surveying device that is capable of radiological and industrial hygiene monitoring as well as capturing video footage. The TALON device allows crews to safely survey potential areas of contamination from a distance of up to ½ mile.


10:54 AM -- Hanford Emergency Update: there is confirmation a tunnel next to PUREX is breached. 

Latest Information:

Responders are on the scene and are reporting the soil has subsided in an area approximately 20 feet by 20 feet over one of the tunnels next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX. There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point. Responders are getting closer to the area where the soil has subsided for further visual inspection. The subsidence of soil was discovered during a routine surveillance of the area by workers. The tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with approximately eight feet of soil covering them. The depth of the subsidence of soil appears to be into the tunnel.

The tunnels to the PUREX facility are located to the east of the facility, extending south. There are two tunnels, one is approximately 360 feet long and the other is approximately 1,700 feet long. The tunnels were used beginning in the 1950s to store contaminated equipment. The 20 foot wide by 20 foot long cave-in is in an area where the two tunnels join together.


10:13 AM --

Latest Information:

Update on the emergency at Hanford. There was NOT a tunnel collapse at the PUREX tunnel. There is no evidence of a release of contamination and no reports of injuries.

Responders are on the scene and are reporting the soil has subsided in an area approximately 4 feet by 4 feet over one of the tunnels next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX. There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point. Responders are getting closer to the area where the soil has subsided for further visual inspection. The subsidence of soil was discovered during a routine surveillance of the area by workers. The tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with approximately eight feet of soil covering them. The depth of the subsidence of soil appears to be two to four feet deep.

9:39 AM --

The Hanford Fire Department is on scene and updates will be posted as they are available. Workers in the vicinity are still being sheltered as a precaution.

___________________________

Previous Coverage:

UPDATE: From U.S. Department of Energy, "The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Richland Operations Office activated the Hanford Emergency Operations Center at 8:26 a.m., after an alert was declared at the 200 East Area. There are concerns about subsidence in the soil covering railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing facility. The tunnels contain contaminated materials.

Actions taken to protect site employees include:

Facility personnel have been evacuated

As a precaution, workers in potentially affected areas of the Hanford Site have gone indoors

Access to the 200 East Area of the Hanford Site, which is located in the center of the Hanford Site, has been restricted to protect employees."

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HANFORD, WA - NBC Right Now has confirmed with employees at the Hanford site they've been told to take cover because of an event in the 200 East Area. 

An employee told us they were told a tunnel possibly collapsed near the PUREX Facililty and employees were instructed to take shelter.

This is a developing story. 

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