Published: Wed, May 10, 2017
Entertainment | By Alexander Flowers

Tunnel collapses at U.S. nuclear waste facility

Hundreds of workers at a nuclear site in the U.S. state of Washington were ordered to take cover on Tuesday (May 9) after a tunnel filled with contaminated material collapsed near the facility, federal officials said.

The Energy Department said on Twitter that Secretary Rick Perry had been briefed on the incident, everyone was accounted for and there was no initial indication of worker exposure or airborne radiological release.

Officials say a collapsed patch of ground above the tunnel was larger than first believed.

Susannah Frame of KING 5 reports that the "subsidence" concern translates into a collapsed tunnel, and workers have been instructed not to eat or drink anything. The tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with about eight feet (2.4 meters) of soil covering them, the agency said. Hanford made the plutonium for the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, and much of the plutonium for the nation's nuclear arsenal. The last of the radioactive waste was put into the tunnels in 1989, using remotely operated trains, they added. "The tunnels contain contaminated materials", the US Department of Energy said in a statement.

Workers were told to evacuate and, "as a precaution, workers in potentially affected areas of the Hanford Site have gone indoors", according to the statement.

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The Hanford site was built during World War II and made plutonium for most of the USA nuclear arsenal, including the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of the war.

No spent nuclear fuel is stored in the tunnel, Energy Department officials said.

Cleaning up radioactive materials at the Hanford site, a federal facility, has been one of the Energy Department's priorities for years.

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.

The area contains about 56 million gallons (211.98 million liters) of radioactive waste, most of it in 177 underground tanks.

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