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Hanford Residents Leave Homes

January 29, 1998

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) _ A vial of picric acid found near the nation’s largest repository of nuclear-weapons waste triggered evacuation alarms that sent residents scrambling to leave homes, schools and businesses.

Although authorities said the acid is unlikely to explode, Hanford nuclear reservation officials intend to remove the explosive powder from the facility’s basement. Workers found it Wednesday in a crawl space.

At the Washington State University branch campus, near the area that was evacuated, some of the 30 classes were cut short by instructors and some of the 200 remaining students were evacuated.

``There was some panic,″ said Dean James Cochran.

The reaction by late afternoon amounted to more annoyance and confusion than fright, as evidenced by a steady stream of walkers and joggers who continued exercising in Richland’s waterfront parks, serenaded by the faraway wail of warning sirens upriver.

The vial, which contained about 2 ounces of picric acid, had been there for a long time, authorities said.

The powdered acid is stable and likely would burn rather than explode if ignited, said Judy Graybeal, a spokeswoman for Fluor Daniel Hanford, which operates the building for the federal Energy Department. Its explosive potential was described as less than a stick of dynamite.

Picric acid is a poisonous, yellow, crystalline acid used in making dyes and explosives and in analytical chemistry.

Hanford for more than 40 years made plutonium for nuclear weapons. The 560-square-mile reservation now contains the nation’s largest volume of radioactive waste from nuclear weapons.

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