By Dan Serres, Conservation Director
On Tuesday, an extremely radioactive tunnel at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state partially collapsed. The Department of Energy declared an emergency at the facility, called PUREX, which was used to manufacture plutonium for nuclear weapons. Federal officials have not yet detected any release of radioactive contamination, and crews are continuing to sample the area.
EcoWatch provided a helpful overview, "Emergency Declared at Nuclear Waste Site in Washington State." And an article in the Washington Post depicted the ongoing impact of Hanford’s legacy on the Tri-Cities.
The PUREX facility, where the tunnel collapsed, produced more plutonium than any other facility in the United States, and possibly the world. I visited the area briefly on a tour in 2015 - a trip that deepened my concern for those working nearby. The tunnel collapse is a disturbing event, and we hope for the safety of all the workers in the area. Their work is critical to protecting our region and the Columbia River.
In October 2015, on a tour of the Hanford site, I snapped this photo as we drove near the PUREX facility and through tank farms where workers have been sickened by chemical vapors from Hanford’s tanks. It was clear to me then that Hanford poses a generations-long risk to the environment, groundwater, and most of all to the workers who are tasked with protecting our region. This week’s events are a sobering reminder of the risks they face.
What can you do to help? Urge our leaders to take action here.
We need change at Hanford. For too long, Washington state and EPA have agreed with the U.S. Department of Energy's delays in cleaning up areas like the tunnel near PUREX. As recently as 2016, the agencies agreed to a long delay of cleanup in this area of Hanford. Lend us your voice to hold the federal government accountable for their failed promises to clean up this site. Otherwise, cleanup delays will increase the likelihood that incidents like the tunnel collapse at PUREX will happen again, threatening workers and the environment.