Former Hanford Site operator: ‘It’s a mess’

Tunnel collapsed over nuclear waste on Tuesday

In the background sits the Plutonium Finishing Plant at the Hanford Nuclear Facility, now being taken apart piece by piece, July 11, 2016 (KOIN)
In the background sits the Plutonium Finishing Plant at the Hanford Nuclear Facility, now being taken apart piece by piece, July 11, 2016 (KOIN)

RICHLAND, Wash. (KOIN) — — A former Hanford health physicist who years ago reviewed and refused a permit for the tunnel that collapsed Tuesday told KOIN 6 News the Hanford Site needs to be decommissioned for the public to be safe.

Ed Bricker worked at the facility for years as a nuclear operator and technician, then as a health physicist with the State of Washington. He said the radioactivity stored in the tunnels comes from the early days of the Cold War.

An aerial view of the 20x20 foot hole in a tunnel that collapsed at the Hanford Site, May 9, 2017 (KOIN)
An aerial view of the 20×20 foot hole in a tunnel that collapsed at the Hanford Site, May 9, 2017 (KOIN)

“There’s a lot down there and I think this is probably the old tunnel,” Bricker told KOIN 6 News by phone. “My suspicion is there is some shoring inside, wood or concrete, gave way and it collapsed.”

Bricker said the tunnel collapse is, at least, a warning to everyone.

“Hey, these are aging facilities and anything can happen,” he said.

One thing he suggested is a change in how officials take criticism from the workers.
“It’s not a system that’s open to criticism,” he said. “They’re your sentinels. They’re your signposts and you need to listen to them.”

Decommissioning the Hanford Site should be a congressional priority, Bricker said. “It’s a mess. It needs to be cleaned up.”

Tom Carpenter, the executive director of the watchdog group Hanford Challenge, said this is the first site he can remember “where they closed the whole site down because of a potential radiological disaster.”

“This is the way it is at Hanford,” Carpenter told KOIN 6 News. “Everyone in this community out here is familiar with how Hanford does business. I’m not sure it’s going to change anytime soon unless they get different management in there that believes in transparency and honesty and accountability.”

He worries more about what will happen as Hanford and other sites get even older.

“Moving forward, we’re asking the federal government to take a more serious look at the risks that are happening. Stop delaying on taking care of the risks and protect the public like they’re supposed to do.”

An overview of where the Hanford Site is located as seen on the Hanford Challenge website, May 10, 2017
An overview of where the Hanford Site is located as seen on the Hanford Challenge website, May 10, 2017