Tunnel with nuclear waste collapses in Washington state

Tunnel with nuclear waste collapses in Washington state

We talk to our USA correspondent.

No workers were in the tunnel at the time, but some employees close to the collapse were evacuated and others in the area were told to remain indoors and "take cover" as a precautionary measure, according to NBC News.

UPDATE: Hanford officials say no one has been inured in the tunnel collapse and no radiation appears to have been released into the atmosphere.

From World War II through the Cold War, Hanford, a 580-square-mile site in Eastern Washington, near Richland, Wash., produced plutonium, including material used in the first nuclear bomb.

The collapse was discovered during a routine inspection, the agency said. It is now being dismantled and cleaned up by the Energy Department.

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Workers evacuated or took cover and turned off ventilation systems after damage was discovered in the wall of a transport tunnel about 170 miles (270 km) east of Seattle, officials with the Department of Energy's Hanford Joint Information Center said.

The building has been vacant for almost twenty years, but it remains highly contaminated.

Non-essential workers are being sent home from a nuclear waste storage site in Washington state after the partial collapse of an underground tunnel where nuclear waste is kept in rail cars. There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point, Crews are continuing to survey the area for contamination.

The Department of Energy says a 20 foot by 20 foot section of soil has sunk unusually low over a tunnel next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility.

"They are looking at options that would provide a barrier between the contaminated equipment in the tunnel and the outside air that would not cause the hole in the tunnel's roof to widen", Hanford's website said. They rest on reinforced concrete footings. The waste produced at the site has been the subject of a major cleanup project since 1989, and now 11,000 employees are involved in the operation. The tunnels underneath the earth contain hazardous materials.

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Since 1989, the government has been in the process of cleaning up the site.

It contains about 56 million gallons of radioactive waste, most of it in 177 underground tanks.

Beginning in 1943 and lasting for more than 40 years, Hanford made plutonium for nuclear weapons, including for the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.

The collapse occurred where the roof of one of the tunnels at the PUREX facility had caved in, affecting a 20-foot stretch of the roughly 100-foot tunnel, Henderson said.

"The Hanford Fire Department is on scene", the Department of Energy reports. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit past year, alleging hundreds of workers have been exposed to toxins escaping from nuclear waste storage tanks.

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