Department of Ecology News Release - May 10, 2017

Washington state takes legal action against U.S. government after Hanford tunnel collapses

OLYMPIA, WASH. – The state of Washington is taking swift legal action against the U.S. government after a tunnel full of mixed radioactive and chemical waste collapsed yesterday at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

“This alarming emergency compels us to take immediate action – to hold the federal government accountable to its obligation to clean up the largest nuclear waste site in the country,” said Washington Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon.

Ecology is requiring the federal Department of Energy, through an enforcement order, to immediately assess the integrity of the tunnels and take swift corrective action.

“Our top priority is to ensure the safety of Hanford workers and the community. The collapse of this tunnel raises serious questions about how it happened and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This enforcement order is necessary to make sure we get greater assurance about the condition of these tunnels and the Department of Energy’s plan to contain any further risks,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

“The infrastructure built to temporarily store radioactive waste is now more than a half-century old. The tunnel collapse is direct evidence that it's failing. It’s the latest in a series of alarms that the safety and health of Hanford workers and our citizens are at risk,” said Director Bellon.

The enforcement order legally requires the U.S. Department of Energy to determine the cause of the tunnel collapse; assess the risk of further collapses; ensure the radioactive and chemical waste in the tunnels is stored safely; and submit a plan for permanently cleaning up waste in the tunnels.

Ecology oversees and regulates the federal government’s cleanup work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Contact:

Sandi Peck, communications director, 360-584-2257, @ecologyWA