Hundreds of workers at a nuclear site in the U.S. state of Washington were ordered to take cover after a storage tunnel filled with contaminated material partially collapsed yesterday, but there was no indication of a radioactive leak.
The damage was more serious than initially reported, and the take-cover order was expanded to cover the entire facility after response crews found a 400-square-foot section of the decommissioned rail tunnel had collapsed, she said.
The DOE claimed that there is "no indication of a release of contamination at this point".
New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone said the incident underscores the need for the Department of Energy to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety and security of workers. The tunnels are described as being hundreds of feet long and the collapse was spotted by workers doing routine surveillance.
By early afternoon, eating and drinking were allowed, and some workers were being authorized to leave - but the areas closest to the tunnel remained in lockdown.
For decades Hanford made plutonium for nuclear weapons, including for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.
The committee oversees the Energy Department's management of cleanup efforts at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation 200 miles southeast of Seattle. Everyone has been accounted for and there is no initial indication of any worker exposure or an airborne radiological release.
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Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been briefed on the collapse of an underground railroad tunnel where nuclear waste is stored in a remote area of Washington state. The breached tunnel was used to "bury radioactive waste from the production of plutonium", Inslee said.
The PUREX plant has been vacant for almost 20 years, according to the Hanford Site website, but remains "highly contaminated" after housing operations to chemically process irradiated fuel rods to recover the plutonium contained within them.
The U.S. established Hanford in the 1940s, and today it is considered the most toxic place in the United States, with a local contractor undertaking a $110 billion clean-up of the 56 million gallons of chemical and nuclear waste still at the facility, NBC reported a year ago.
Inside the tunnel were rail cars with radioactive waste but no radiation release had been detected.
The last reactor shut down in 1987, shortly before the mammoth cleanup effort began.
The site is a former plutonium production plant that was used to develop American nuclear weapons.