Some 200 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington state were ordered to “take cover” Tuesday after a 20-foot section of tunnel containing “contaminated materials” collapsed. The alert was declared at 8:26 a.m. local time after the cave-in covered “railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing plant,” the U.S. Department of Energy reported.
“There are no reports of injuries, no reports of radiological release,” Destry Henderson, deputy news manager for the Hanford Joint Information Center, told NBC News. “I would underscore this is confined to a small area of the Hanford site.” Nor was there any danger to communities outside the sprawling 580 square-mile site on the Columbia River, officials said. “I can confirm we are investigating a small area of soil that had sunken,” Henderson added.
“This soil covers a tunnel used to access a former chemical processing facility.” The tunnel is located next to the massive Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX, which is located in the center of the Hanford Site in an area known as the 200 East Area. It has not been occupied in 20 years and remains contaminated by radioactivity.
Citing a source, the Seattle NBC affiliate reported road crews working nearby might have created enough vibration to cause the collapse. “The Department of Energy informed us this morning that a tunnel was breached that was used to bury radioactive waste from the production of plutonium at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.