The dangerous trains underneath the Hanford tunnel breach - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

The dangerous trains underneath the Hanford tunnel breach

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RICHLAND, Wash. -

The tunnel that was breached at Hanford Site on Tuesday morning has been an environmental threat for some 20 years.

The chain of events that make the trains buried beneath the soil have been a danger long after Hanford shut down production in 1997.

The tunnels were never supposed to be a permanent solution to Hanford’s radioactive rail car problem.

The 12 rail cars stored in a tunnel and buried underneath Hanford soil were originally used to transport radioactive fuel.

The cars delivered on a 158-mile track from the fuel from the production reactors to the plutonium processing plant.

But after decades, the rail cars became saturated with radioactive waste and taken out of service along with the entire Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant, or PUREX site.

For nearly 20 years, Hanford officials have been trying to shrink the radioactive footprint, including coming up with a permanent plan for these rail cars.

The removal process started along the rail spur in 2010. Cleanup crews in HAZMAT suits brought in load after load of sealant; Weeks of work necessary to safeguard event the short trip to the tunnels.

“We're pumping a real wet slurry of grout into the rail cars and filling them up,” said Rail car Disposition Project Manager, Earl Lloyd in 2010. “So when we go to ship these cars they'll be shifted easily and compliantly.”

But plans to decontaminate then dump the cars into the Hanford Site's huge Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility were put on hold because, according to a press release, taking the trains out of the tunnels "would entail extreme worker safety hazards and would be more costly than grouting in-place."

The fate and final resting place for the rail cars remains up in the air. For now it would be up to the Trump administration to issue extra funds to mop up the mess this tunnel collapse has exposed.

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