May 24, 2017

Wyden, Walden, Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Call on GAO to Review Infrastructure Safety, Unfinished Work at Hanford Nuclear Reservation

Following recent tunnel collapse at Hanford, lawmakers push for answers on nuclear waste cleanup

Washington, D.C.  Following this month’s tunnel collapse at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, a bipartisan group of Pacific Northwest lawmakers today called for a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of the nuclear waste cleanup and environmental remediation work at Hanford.

In their letter today, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., along with Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., asked the GAO to investigate the work Department of Energy still needs to complete to ensure the safety of workers at Hanford and the public.

“We were alarmed by the recent tunnel collapse at the Hanford site, and are concerned that future events could put the safety of workers, the public, and environment at risk,” the members wrote in their request to GAO.

“This event was another harsh reminder of the radioactive and toxic hazards that remain at the Hanford site, as well as the importance of ensuring the site has the resources necessary to expeditiously achieve its cleanup mission.”

The underground tunnel, located adjacent to the now-closed PUREX processing plant, was used to store railroad cars loaded with radioactively contaminated equipment removed from the plant during its operation to produce plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program. The collapse was first reported by workers at the site on May 9.

The letter requests that GAO review the following:

  • The methods DOE used to monitor the tunnel that collapsed on May 9, as well as how DOE monitors the safety of other infrastructure and equipment.
  • The actions DOE will take to improve monitoring of Hanford’s facilities to ensure structural stability and evaluate safety risks to workers, the public and environment.
  • How DOE will hold its contractors accountable to ensure workers are not exposed to radioactive or toxic materials.
  • How much radioactive waste still needs to be treated and the timeline for completing the treatment of the waste, as well as equipment, facilities, radioactive groundwater and soil surrounding the infrastructure.
  • How DOE identifies and determines the risks Hanford’s aging infrastructure and radioactive waste pose to workers, the public, and environment, and how DOE prioritizes waste treatment work. 
  • What DOE’s plans are to remove the waste from and remediate Tunnel 1 and Tunnel 2 at the PUREX plant.

A copy of the letter is available here.