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Nuclear Waste Program


(Information on this site is considered to be accurate at the time of posting, but is subject to change as new information becomes available.)


PUREX tunnels status

Stabilization plan now required for Tunnel 2, too

We know that both PUREX tunnels are at risk of collapsing. As a result, we are amending our original enforcement order to the U.S. Department of Energy to now require a stabilization plan for Tunnel 2 as well. We will extend the deadline for the stabilization plans from Oct. 2 to Dec. 8. Energy now needs to provide a final plan to Ecology in the form of a draft permit modification by Dec. 8. We want Energy to collect more data for long-term remediation of the tunnels to adequately protect workers, the community, and the environment.

View the Amended Order.

Tunnel 1 grouting to start; Tunnel 2 panel meets

Grout will start flowing into PUREX Tunnel 1 in September. And the panel of experts reviewing options for Tunnel 2 meets for the first time this week. Both are welcome developments in the drive to stabilize the tunnels, which both contain highly radioactive waste generated by plutonium processing at the PUREX plant.

Hanford contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. awarded a subcontract to a Richland company that has experience delivering grout on Hanford site. The subcontractor will go back through the hole created by the early May partial roof collapse in Tunnel 1 to insert grout delivery pipes into the tunnel. Workers then will gradually build up layers of grout until the tunnel is nearly filled. That will both serve as a shield to reduce radioactive emissions from the waste, and stabilize the tunnel, greatly reducing the risk from any future collapse.

Also, a panel of experts begins meeting to select the best option to stabilize Tunnel 2. That tunnel is significantly wider and is five times longer than Tunnel 1. Our administrative order, issued within a day of the PUREX collapse discovery, set an Aug. 2 deadline for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to submit a plan for Tunnel 2. Instead, DOE announced that it was convening a panel to review the options. We accepted that on the premise that it may lead to the best possible solution. However, we still expect Energy to meet our Oct. 2 deadline for a final, detailed plan, submitted in the form of a modification to the permit that regulates Hanford cleanup.

Ecology sets Aug. 18 deadline for PUREX tunnel schedules

The U.S. Department of Energy has until Aug. 18 to give us schedules for how it plans to meet our enforcement order to stabilize the PUREX tunnels and ensure safe storage of the radioactive and dangerous waste stored in them. On Aug. 1, Energy said it planned to convene a panel of experts to review potential solutions for Tunnel 2. While we recognize the potential value of this expert advice, we want to ensure that Energy still meets our Oct. 2 deadline for a detailed plan to ensure safe storage in both tunnels. We’ve required that this detailed plan be in the form of a proposed permit modification.

By Aug. 18, Energy is to provide us with schedules for:

  • Convening its panel of experts.
  • Completing its analysis of tunnel options.
  • Selecting an option to stabilize and ensure safe storage in Tunnel 2.

PUREX Tunnel 2 status

U.S. Department of Energy proposes expert review panel

The U.S. Department of Energy plans to convene a panel of experts to review options to ensure safe storage in Hanford’s PUREX Tunnel 2. Energy’s options range from a heavy plastic tarp to sand, from filling with poly-foam to filling with grout. The department already has proposed filling Tunnel 1 with grout, and we have agreed to that emergency plan. That tunnel was found with a partial roof collapse on May 9.

We issued an enforcement order on May 10 requiring Energy to take a series of steps:

July 3 Assess the immediate risk of further tunnel collapses.

The structural assessment found that Tunnel 2 also may be in danger of collapse.
Aug. 1 Detail corrective actions to ensure safe storage of the tunnel waste. Report submitted and under review.
Oct. 2 Submit a draft permit modification to govern work on the tunnels.  

We’re reviewing the Aug. 1 report to determine whether the plan for an expert panel fulfils the requirement that it detail its proposed corrective actions for both tunnels. Our primary concern is to ensure that the process continues to move quickly so that we have a detailed plan of action in hand by Oct. 2 – the final deadline set out in our enforcement order.

U.S. Department of Energy identifies Tunnel 2 options

The U.S. Department of Energy’s options for PUREX Tunnel 2 range from a heavy plastic tarp to sand, from filling with poly-foam to filling with grout. The department already has proposed filling Tunnel 1 with grout, and we have agreed to that emergency plan. That tunnel was found with a partial roof collapse on May 9. Meanwhile, a structural assessment found that Tunnel 2 also may be in danger of collapse. Energy has until Aug. 1 to tell us how it plans to reduce that risk.

Options include:

  • Heavy plastic cover
  • Soft-surface tent
  • Hard-surface tent
  • Pre-engineered building
  • Poly-foam injection
  • Fill with sand
  • Collapse in place
  • Retrieve the waste
  • Grout
  • Enhance surveillance, monitoring

Report: Tunnel 2 also at risk of collapse

A new report, completed in response to our recent enforcement order, confirms what was suspected about the aging Tunnel 2 at Hanford’s PUREX plant. The report indicates that the tunnel was not built strongly enough to handle the stresses it bears, especially from the weight of eight feet of dirt that forms a shield for the highly radioactive materials stored in the tunnel.

The collapse of a portion of Tunnel 1’s roof on May 9th has already demonstrated that tunnel’s structural weakness. See below for additional information on Tunnel 1.

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PUREX Tunnel 1 incident

Tunnel collapse just the latest proof of Hanford deterioration


On May 9, U.S. Department of Energy workers doing routine inspections at Hanford Nuclear Reservation discovered the roof had collapsed on a tunnel holding highly radioactive waste. They were working around the PUREX (Plutonium-Uranium Extraction) plant when they picked up an increase in background radiation. It wasn’t enough to cause health concerns, but it did prompt them to look for a source. The 20- by 20-foot hole they discovered in the tunnel’s roof led to an emergency lock-down across Hanford. The lock-down was lifted after a few hours when Energy was confident that no radioactive materials had been released. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Within 48 hours, the hole In PUREX Tunnel 1 had been filled with sand, and within a few days the entire length of the 360-foot tunnel had been covered with a heavy-duty plastic tarp, secured on either side with concrete blocks. Hanford is back on full work schedule, with full worker access restored across the site.

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Draft Permit Modification Due to Ecology:
Dec. 8, 2017

Report Information:
Department of Energy has named expert panel



Work to be completed:
Dec. 31, 2017

Report Information:
CH2M has awarded contract to begin grouting Tunnel 1


Randy Bradbury