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United States Power Science Technology

Tunnel Collapses At Nuclear Facility Once Called 'An Underground Chernobyl Waiting To Happen' (gizmodo.com) 188

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Managers at the Hanford Site in Washington State told workers to "take cover" Tuesday morning after a tunnel leading to a massive plutonium finishing plant collapsed. The emergency is especially worrisome, since Hanford is commonly known as "the most toxic place in America," with one former governor calling it "an underground Chernobyl waiting to happen." Worrisome might actually be an understatement. An emergency has been declared. The accident occurred near the 200 East Area, the home of several solid waste sites. More specifically, the tunnel that collapsed was one filled with highly radioactive train cars that once carried spent fuel rods containing deeply dangerous plutonium and uranium from a reactor on the Columbia River to the processing facility. Those reactors once produced plutonium for America's nuclear arsenal, though production ended in 1980. The cleanup process that followed has gone on for nearly 30 years. Back to the poor workers, though. They've been instructed to stay indoors, and one manager reportedly sent out a message telling workers to "secure ventilation in your building" and "refrain from eating or drinking." When you can't even have a glass of water, you know the nuclear emergency is bad. The U.S. Department of Energy sent out a press release around 1pm EST that said "facility personnel have been evacuated," while workers at nearby sites have been instructed to stay indoors. A spokesperson also told the press that "there was no evidence to suggest that radioactive materials had been released and that all of the workers in the area were accounted for."
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Tunnel Collapses At Nuclear Facility Once Called 'An Underground Chernobyl Waiting To Happen'

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  • Here's an idea (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    How about we don't try to produce energy with the most toxic and deadly materials mankind has ever discovered?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How about we don't try to produce energy with the most toxic and deadly materials mankind has ever discovered?

      You mean carbon?

    • no more lithium batteries???
    • Re:Here's an idea (Score:4, Informative)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @04:33PM (#54387577)

      How about we don't try to produce energy with the most toxic and deadly materials mankind has ever discovered?

      The waste at Hanford is from producing weapons, not energy. This has nothing to do with nuclear power.

      • by ravenshrike ( 808508 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @05:13PM (#54387859)

        Well, you're still producing energy. Just... a lot faster.

        • Well, you're still producing energy. Just... a lot faster.

          First Law of Thermodynamics disagrees. You're never producing energy.

      • Re:Here's an idea (Score:4, Interesting)

        by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @08:45PM (#54389263)
        Actually it's got both military and civilian waste, and there is still very interesting ongoing work on reprocessing at the place which is described on their website.
        It's a very large site and a lot of activities have occurred there in different buildings over many years.
        The rolling stock that's mentioned in the summary is not exactly Chernobyl material - just something radioactive enough to be too dangerous to stand next to for a while. It's a good example of the vast amount of low level radioactive waste existing that the "there is no nuclear waste, only fuel" people try to pretend does not exist for some bizzare reason (I don't know why they do this since the low level stuff is not so difficult to store).
    • How about we don't try to produce energy with the most toxic and deadly materials mankind has ever discovered?

      Because Hanford was a WEAPONS plant. It has nothing to do with commercial application of nuclear energy. But climate engineering does, if you people sincerely believe in it.

    • How about we don't try to produce energy with the most toxic and deadly materials mankind has ever discovered?

      I agree, but we're talking about nuclear here and not the most toxic and deadly materials mankind has ever discovered.

  • EPAAAWWWWWWHHHHH (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jhoegl ( 638955 )
    De-funded at the worst time.
    • While the EPA may declare this an environmental disaster. The DOE needs to reclassify plutonium as a mineral. The FDA can come up with an RDA for plutonium. The workers and nearby population can be told there is nothing to worry about. Go about your business as normal. Move along. Move along.

      RDA = Recommended Daily Allowance, like the vitamins listed on your breakfast cereal boxes.
      • RDA = Recommended Daily Allowance, like the vitamins listed on your breakfast cereal boxes.

        It is easy to see if you have met your RDA for plutonium:

        Turn off the lights.

        If you glow in the dark, you've had too much.

      • Just think of all the money we'd save on electricity if everyone just glowed in the dark.

        • Just think of all the money we'd save on electricity if everyone just glowed in the dark.

          The movie industry would have a new scape goat for theatres not filling. It's too bright in the cinema with everyone glowing, no one can see the picture.

      • The DOE needs to reclassify plutonium. The FDA can come up with an RDA.

        But seeing as how the VP is such a VIP, shouldn't we keep the PC on the QT? 'Cause if it leaks to the VC he could end up MIA, and then we'd all be put on KP.

      • There is actually a minimum amount of ionising radiation needed for optimum health and that amount is non-zero. So, yes there is a legitimate RDA for radiation even if no one publishes one. In most places in the world the background radiation is below the optimum amount. Flying, X-rays etc add to that from the background.

        This process (in general) is called 'hormesis' and applies in many other field.

    • by geek ( 5680 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @03:56PM (#54387299)

      What is it you think the EPA was going to do about a tunnel collapse exactly?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by sit1963nz ( 934837 )
        Well nothing now, they are too busy trying to figure out how coal can be portrayed as "safe clean energy"

        Now that all those pesky scientists have gone they can be replaced with Marketing Experts from Industry, hell they may be able to put such a huge spin on this we may have to reconsider if perpetual motion is real or not.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by geek ( 5680 )

          Well nothing now, they are too busy trying to figure out how coal can be portrayed as "safe clean energy"

          Now that all those pesky scientists have gone they can be replaced with Marketing Experts from Industry, hell they may be able to put such a huge spin on this we may have to reconsider if perpetual motion is real or not.

          Is this what flies as an intelligent argument from leftists?

          • Seems a fairly astute observation. Left to his own, and to Bannon, I'm sure Trump would have killed the EPA entire.

            Of course, things aren't that simple, and if the rumors are true, the delay in Trump's grand commitment to exiting the Paris agreement is because Kushner, Tillerson, and dare I even say it, no less than Rick Perry himself think the US should stay in it, with Bannon and Pruitt fighting to pull the US out. I find it fascinating that every hot button issue now has Kushner on one side, and Bannon o

            • I would not put Kushner in too good of a light. I'd rate him right up there with the Jewish money changers christ threw out of the temple. Except there was no one to throw him out of the white house when they were selling EB-5's in china for the family biz. At first I thought he was only complicit. Now I think he is all in.

              • And yet he and Ivanka are basically Democrats. So if they beat out Bannon in influence, I'll take them, corrupt or not. Right now it's not about corruption, it's about sanity, and I think Bannon is well and truly insanely evil.

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            I'd say it's extremely obvious sarcasm but don't let that stop you doing some political cheerleading.

            I don't think this is about "left" or "right" anyway. Nixon had a lot to say about pollution. The Soviets had Lysenkoism and current trends seem to be going in that direction - reality being defined by what the State says it is and don't let those pesky facts get in the way.
          • No. Anything with intelligence would recognise that as sarcasm just as they recognise your response to it is butt hurt nastiness. From either side of the political fence.
          • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

            Is this what flies as an intelligent argument from leftists?

            Radionuclides aren't energetic in the political spectrum.

            The true test will be if accurate and factual information will be released about exactly *which* radionuclides, and how much of them have been released. This will be essential to know as many of these will be bio-concentrating in the water table and food chain over time.

            That's the whole reason they are trying to clean up the site in the first place.

        • If you're gonna try to make coal look clean and safe, a nuclear disaster is your best bet!

      • Backfill the tunnel with concrete. Immobilize the problem so it doesn't wash into the water table, then cover with dirt and call it a national park. Yes seriously, this crazy plan is better than what they've been doing.
      • Re:EPAAAWWWWWWHHHHH (Score:5, Informative)

        by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @05:08PM (#54387811)
        The EPA is directly involved with the Hanford cleanup operation. [epa.gov] The work is being done under the direct management of the DOE, but their results are reviewed by the EPA.

        CERCLA 121(c) requires five-year reviews on remedial actions when hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants will remain on site above levels that allow for “unlimited use and unrestricted exposure”. A general overview of the review process can be found in this presentation. The first Five-Year Review was completed in 2001 by EPA staff. The Department of Energy (DOE) chose to conduct the second Five-Year Review which had draft 0 completed in 2006. When DOE performs the review, as in 2006, EPA is still required to review the report and provide comments/concurrence in a letter of review.

        Given how poorly the Hanford cleanup has gone under the leadership of the DOE, more involvment by the EPA might lead to a better result. If you carefully read the preceding paragraph, you will note that the DOE took over the review process from the EPA after the first report. Having a department review it'sown work is not exactly the best way to insure that they are doing a good job. After this latest failure, it is obvious that the DOE is not doing a very good job.

        There is a cosmic irony in the juxtaposition of this problem at Hanford and the shutdown of scientific advisory panels at the EPA and the Department of the Interior. Inevitably some of these efforts involve the Hanford site. It is a stark reminder that ignoring science is always a bad idea.

        By the way, why are you picking on the EPA in the first place? I detect the stench of a right wing troll.

    • But the EPA for the last 8 years under Obama was what was keeping this tunnel from collapsing? Gotcha.
    • Hanford comes under DoD, I believe. As such, the EPA has never had any input into the conditions of the place.

      Note a difference between Hanford and Chernobyl (other than the fact that we don't test nuclear power plants to destruction the way they did) - Chernobyl was a nuclear power plant. Hanford isn't about producing power, it's about producing Pu239....

      • RBMK - the reactor type that was used in Chernobyl - is based on a military reactor because the lead designer was too lazy to come up with something better than upscaling his previous work.

  • In other news... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    A giant lizard like creature has been spotted in the river approaching Portland.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @03:46PM (#54387201)

    On a news site supposedly devoted to technology and science.

    It's not a "Chernobyl waiting to happen" because they're not running the reactor hard to test the safety systems.

    They're worried about a release of radiation into the air through the permeability of the tunnel collapse and that's presuming the train cars were damaged in the collapse as well - if there is leakage we're looking at another Three Mile Island (and all the hysteria that went along with that)

    The bigger story here is why don't we have a more secure disposal facility for nuclear waste... oh wait... we DID and Harry Reid shut it down so the waste had to stay in this "Chernobyl like" facility.

  • 30 yr gig (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ghoul ( 157158 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @03:52PM (#54387261)

    30 year gig to "clean up" a site. Wish I had founded a company to snag this sweet gig. The profits would have enormous - funding the anti nuke nuts would have been a small portion of the profit margin.

  • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @03:53PM (#54387269)
    Hanford. I remember friend and I drove to the road adjacent to this property to view the total eclipse in 1979 (wide open flat area). Looks like have to find another location to view total eclipse this August.
    • by Nethead ( 1563 )

      I plan on taking the LIGO tour out there this year. Back in 1980 I drove past Hanford about every week taking care of sister radio stations in Yakima and Richland.

      w7com, an old batlabs lurker. Need any old Jedi radios, Mike?

  • News (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @03:55PM (#54387295) Journal

    I find the prose and opinion in these kinds of news stories to be annoying. Whether or not I agree or disagree with the bias of this particular story, the "Back to the poor workers, though" bit had me wondering if one of the worker's grandmothers wrote this news or what.

  • I see a dome for Washington... unfortunately, it's for the wrong Washington.
  • by Bugler412 ( 2610815 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @04:12PM (#54387435)
    I've done engineering work on the site (new storage tanks). This site is a perfect example of how technical neglect or ignorance (the early days of nuclear) combined with entrenched bureaucracy and underfunding of the cleanup project can land you in a giant mess that's difficult (at best) to resolve. Hanford is and was an accident waiting to happen, and it could happen at literally any time, contaminating beyond any reasonable ability to cleanup the entire Columbia river basin when the big accident finally happens. And with current funding and environmental attitudes of the current regime, it's not going to get better.
    • by Nethead ( 1563 )

      Yet another reason I got my ass out of Yakima as soon as I could!

  • Scaremongering (Score:4, Informative)

    by Scarred Intellect ( 1648867 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @04:17PM (#54387469) Homepage Journal

    I work a mile from the site border, and connect remotely to the government network there for my job, and have worked on site.

    There was no radiological release; no contamination was spread.

    Employees were instructed to shut off HVAC and to avoid eating and drinking for several hours; these moratoriums have been lifted.

    The site has essentially been evacuated. All non-essential employees have been released for the day. Swing shift cancelled (again, except non-essential personnel).

    Can we please stop with the scaremongering? The worst thing about Hanford is that no work ever gets done out there because safety is quite literally job number 1: they've extraordinarily happy that you don't get any work done as long as you're safe not doing it. Hanford's just a huge money sink.

    Hell, I didn't even hear about it until my mother in law halfway across the state texted me.

    • Thanks for the non fear mongering version of events.
    • by Altrag ( 195300 )

      Scaremongering really is needed though. The only way anything's going to get done, not just at that site but with all of the old sites, is if people start worrying about their back yards.

      Unfortunately, the anti-nuclear regime has directed all of the scariness of nuclear in the wrong direction: We're petrified of new, safer nuclear options while we simultaneously ignore the old, decaying nuclear sites that already exist and are at moderate to extreme risk of disaster due to neglect and simply being well pa

      • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

        Oh you mean like that leaky thing in NY that they keep talking about? Or that yellowcake processing plant that was shut down in the 90s and they've been quibbling about where to bury the mess ever since? Or the 1970s reactors that melted down after the quake? Or how we are still using designs that were optimised more for weapons production than power. Or how the gov't promised to handle the nuclear waste but still today has has no where to put it. Or.... Well you get the idea.

        • by doom ( 14564 )

          And what about that zombie movie "Meltdown"? Any power source that can lead to movies like that is just too dangerous.

          Thankfully, no one ever does movies about solar-powered zombies.

    • +1 for this. I live in the area and don't work there (well, a couple trips to the vit plant 10 years ago as a contractor) but have plenty of friends that do and am familiar with the safety culture out there.

      Of course they are going to lock down and then evacuate until they determine the (non-)criticality of this event. Safety is so important out there they can't take the risk of being wrong (if for no other reason than the safety dude's job depends on it). Don't take it as an indication of the severit

    • by Nethead ( 1563 )

      Thanks for the sane report. Having grown up in Yakavegas I knew this wasn't as dire as reported.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @04:18PM (#54387475) Homepage Journal

    I've been following this situation, and the shelter in place order and early worker release are just sensible precautionary measures. At present there is no reason to expect any release of contamination.

    Not that this is exactly a feather in the cap for the site's management; obviously it should never have happened. But the response at least is responsible: when the unexpected happens, you assume more unexpected events are in store until you're sure as sure can be.

    What some politician called the site in the past is totally irrelevant to the present situation. This should, however, remind us that we do have a pretty big nuclear waste problem slowly building; and because it's slow we've been kicking the ball down the road and hoping for the best. That isn't a good enough. Unexpected things happen, and even if this event proves to be harmless, as is likely, they don't always happen in harmless ways.

    • FYI, "emergency" is not a recognized classification [nrc.gov]. Considering the press's slavish attention to detail during the last election, I'm amazed that not even a single news report that I've seen so far has got it right.

      According to the site's official website [hanford.gov] this is a Site Area Emergency, which is the higher of the two possible classifications. As shown on the NRC's website, both classifications are filled with weasel words. An event may occur that could lead to a significant release of radioactive materia

  • mdsolar (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Major Blud ( 789630 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @04:20PM (#54387487) Homepage

    An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo:

    An anonymous reader named mdsolar ;-)

  • I live ~60 miles down wind of Hanford, alarms, TV's are all set to alert us of a problem; I read about it on Slashdot. There was no release (at least their story). Local news says to go to www.Hanford.gov

  • Hanford is commonly known as "the most toxic place in America,"

    I think Uber holds that title now.

  • Does this fall under the purvue of the EPA, which has had it's funding slashed, and is currently being run by a guy who is suing his own agency, or does this fall under the DOE, run by Rick Perry, who doesn't even know what his agency does, and once theatened to kill the agency entirely?

    Well, with these rocket scientists at the helm, things are sure to get fixed up real quick, because our President only hires the best people -- the best!

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