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News / Northwest

Part of Hanford nuclear site lab evacuated after ‘extremely dangerous’ chemical discovered

By Tri-City Herald
Published: February 21, 2024, 2:04pm

KENNEWICK — Part of a large laboratory in the center of the Hanford nuclear reservation site was evacuated about 2:20 p.m. Tuesday over concerns of a dangerous chemical.

The Richland police bomb squad was notified, according to communications with emergency dispatch.

An employee in the 222-S Laboratory had opened the outer container holding a vial of the chemical crotonaldehyde to stabilize it for shipment to an offsite treatment, storage and disposal facility, according to the Department of Energy.

The employee noticed what appeared to be crystals that had formed on the vial, which was inside another clear container. The vial was mostly empty with a small amount of the chemical at the bottom.

The Safety Data Sheet for crotonaldehyde states that it reacts with air to form peroxides. When crystals form in a peroxidizable liquid, peroxidation may have occurred, and the product should be considered extremely dangerous, according to DOE.

The Hanford Emergency Operations Center was notified to request help from the Richland Police Department for the removal and disposal of the container.

Richland police arrived to remove the chemical from the laboratory and took it off site Tuesday afternoon.

No information was immediately available Tuesday about why the lab had the chemical, how it may have been used and where it was planned to be sent for treatment and disposal.

The 222-S Laboratory is used to analyze highly radioactive waste samples, primarily waste stored in underground tanks from the past chemical processing of irradiated uranium to remove plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

The 580-square-mile Hanford nuclear reservation site adjacent to Richland in Eastern Washington was used from World War II through the Cold War to produce nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

At the heart of the 222-S Laboratory complex is a 70,000-square-foot building with more than 100 pieces of analytical equipment, 156 fume hoods, 46 remote manipulators and 11 hot cells where workers operate handling equipment from outside the cells and look through thick, leaded glass to work with radioactive waste samples within the hot cells.

The complex also has several support buildings.

As of 2022 the laboratory employed about 275 workers.

Hanford Laboratory Management and Integration, owned by Navarro Research and Engineering and Advanced Technologies and Laboratories International, holds the Department of Energy contract to operate, manage and maintain the 222-S Laboratory.