Portion of tunnel containing nuclear waste collapses in Hanford, Wash

A tunnel containing radioactive waste collapsed Tuesday morning at a facility in rural Washington state that for decades produced plutonium used in nuclear weapons. The site says all employees are safe and that there are no signs of a radiation leak.

No spent nuclear fuel is stored in the tunnel, and no further evacuations have been ordered for workers, nor have any warnings for civilians around the site been issued, she said.

A worker at the Hanford Site who asked us not to disclose their name explained that back in the 1980s, the PUREX facility was used to help dismantle nuclear fuel rods.

"There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point", the department said in a statement.

The AP reports "there are concerns about subsidence in the soil covering railroad tunnels".

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The collapse was discovered during a routine inspection, the agency said.

The Hanford Fire Department is at the scene now.

Soil collapsed over a 20-foot square section of a tunnel housing contaminated material at Hanford - a former nuclear weapons production site in the south-central part of the state, about 45 miles from Yakima. The U.S. Department of Energy says the incident caused the soil above the tunnel to sink between 2 and 4 feet (half to 1.2 meters). Workers at the decommissioned Hanford plutonium uranium extraction plant were evacuated, and those nearby were urged to take cover, secure ventilation areas and refrain from eating or drinking. In the past, rail cars full of radioactive waste were driven deep into the tunnels and then simply buried there.

The U.S. Department of Energy said the tunnels contained radioactive materials but that no release of materials has been observed and there is no threat to the public from the collapse. No workers were inside at the time and the remaining workers at the site were evacuated. The site has been described in media reports as the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States. 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 sprawling Hanford site is located near Richland and is half the size of Rhode Island.

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