Feds evacuate workers at Hanford nuclear site

Tunnel with nuclear waste collapses in Washington state

Hundreds of workers at a nuclear site in the U.S. state of Washington were ordered to take cover Tuesday after a tunnel filled with contaminated material collapsed, but there was no initial indication of a radioactive leak. But officials say no radiation was released and no workers were hurt.

The collapse was discovered during a routine inspection, the agency said. The U.S. Department of Energy said the collapse covered about 400 square feet (37.1 square meters) instead of the 16 square feet (1.4 square meters) first reported.

The tunnel is next to a plutonium uranium extraction facility.

"There are concerns about subsidence in the soil covering railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing facility", the statement said.

Authorities said the tunnels contain contaminated materials. "The facility does have radiological contamination right now but there is no indication of a radiological release", Henderson said. "The tunnels contain contaminated materials".

"The unfolding crisis at Hanford ..."

A text message sent to all personnel and obtained by KING5 told workers to "secure ventilation in your building" and "refrain from eating or drinking".

A source said "take cover" status was expanded to the entire site at 10:35 a.m. A representative for the sprawling site, about 170 miles southeast of Seattle, could not confirm to NBC that a tunnel collapsed, but did note a "take-cover" order was issued.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit last fall against the Energy Department and its contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, contending vapors released from underground nuclear waste tanks posed a serious risk to workers.

The US Department of Energy downplayed the incident at the time saying the leak had been "anticipated" amid ongoing efforts to empty the tank. Energy Department Secretary Rick Perry has been briefed on the incident.

After the accident on Tuesday morning, hundreds of workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation were evacuated and others who were farther away were told to remain indoors, reports said.

Hanford, which is roughly half the size of Rhode Island, spent decades making plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal.

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