Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Our country is not being run very well: Repeated warnings preceded collapse of a Hanford tunnel storing deadly wastes

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Peter Cary and Patrick Malone report at the Center for Public Integrity:

A series of warnings by state and federal experts, stretching back more than thirty years, preceded this week’s cave-in of a tunnel in Hanford, Washington, that holds lethally radioactive debris from the U.S. nuclear weapons program, according to government documents.

A report in 1980 for the Energy Department, which oversees safety and cleanup work at the site, said that wooden beams holding up the tunnel had lost a third of their strength by then. A contractor for the department pointed to the issue again in 1991, warning that by the year 2001, the beams would be further degraded.

A group of academic experts, working under contract to the department, said more alarmingly in a 1,969-page report in August 2015 that the roof of the tunnel in question had been seriously weakened and that a “partial or complete failure” could expose individuals even 380 feet away to dangerous levels of radiation.

No action was taken by the department in response, and earlier this month — the precise date remains uncertain because conditions at the site were not closely monitored — a portion of the roof collapsed at the tunnel, creating a 20-foot square hole. Afterward, the managers of the Hanford site were forced on May 9 to order 3,000 workers to shelter indoors. But instead of shoring up the beams inside the tunnel in question, they poured in 54 new truckloads of dirt.

The tunnel was one of two at the Energy Department’s Hanford reservation used as dumping grounds from 1960 to 2000 for radioactive machine parts, vessels, and other equipment. It was, in short, a tangible expression of the department’s policy of covering over some of its nuclear bomb-making detritus and effectively pretending it isn’t there.

The neglect followed a blunt warning 26 years ago from the State of Washington — cited in a 1991 Energy Department contractor’s report — that the tunnels were not a safe repository and that the wastes should be moved elsewhere.

Under an agreement overseen by a federal court in eastern Washington, the department was supposed to start crafting a way to deal with the tunnel’s lethal dangers by September 2015, but it missed the deadline and promised to do it later this year as part of an overall agreement with the state and the Environmental Protection Agency to push back completion of the site’s overall cleanup from 2024 to 2042. (Hanford remains the most toxic site in America and the government’s most costly environmental cleanup task.)

“The Department of Energy has been aware for years that the … tunnels were a risk. They told the other agencies in charge of overseeing Hanford that it wasn’t a risk,” said Dan Serres, conservation director at Columbia Riverkeeper, an advocacy group in Washington state that has a seat on an Energy Department advisory panel about the site. “DOE assured the others that there was no immediate risk of a collapse like the one that happened.”

Asked for comment on the reports, and on the Energy Department’s failure to respond to the warnings, a spokesman in Washington did not respond. [And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Total lack of response. – LG]

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2017 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Government

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