Tunnel with nuclear waste collapses in Washington state

It is now being dismantled and cleaned up by the Energy Department. The breached tunnel was used to "bury radioactive waste from the production of plutonium", Inslee said.

A statement by the US Department of Energy said personnel at the facility were evacuated and workers in potentially affected areas had gone indoors. The tunnels were constructed of wood and concrete with a soil covering approximately 8 feet deep. A site area emergency is limited to the boundaries of the Hanford site but could affect staff beyond the immediate facility.

The building, which extends 40 feet below ground and is more than six stories tall, has been vacant for almost 20 years but remains highly contaminated. The collapse occurred in the center of the site in what is being called a very "high hazard operation".

"There are no reports of injuries, no reports of radiological release", said Deputy Hanford News Manager Destry Henderson, adding that the incident took place in a small area of the site, NBC News reported.

[Alvarez] said that the rail cars carry spent fuel from a reactor area along the river to the chemical processing facility, which then extracts risky plutonium and uranium.

Hanford, which is roughly half the size of Rhode Island, spent decades making plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal. The TALON device allows crews to safely survey potential areas of contamination from a distance of up to ½ mile. Ten years ago, some press reports stated, the plant contained two-thirds of the high-level radioactive waste in the United States.




Robots were being used to determine possible air contamination. They rest on reinforced concrete footings. Today, the site has leaked more than 1 million gallons of radioactive material into the surrounding earth.

Hanford produced plutonium fuel for the U.S. military for four decades, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Mostly decommissioned, Hanford has been a subject of controversy and conflict between state and local authorities, including a lawsuit over worker safety and ongoing cleanup delays. "It's possible that at some point the soil above them was going to give in", Heeter said. "Five huge plants in the center of the Hanford Site processed 110,000 tons of fuel from the reactors, discharging an estimated 450 billion gallons of liquids to soil disposal sites and 53 million gallons of radioactive waste to 177 large underground tanks".

"The Hanford Fire Department is on scene", the Department of Energy reports.

Ferguson said that since the early 1980s, hundreds of workers have been exposed to vapors escaping from the tanks and that those breathing the vapors developed nosebleeds, chest and lung pain, headaches, coughing, sore throats, irritated eyes and difficulty breathing.

Last year a new legal deadline required the Department of Energy to work toward assessing the waste disposal tunnels by September of this year. The building has been vacant for almost twenty years but remains highly contaminated, according to the Department of Energy.

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