Energy secretary briefed on mishap at nuke site

Ted S. Warren  AP

Ted S. Warren AP

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.

The Department of Energy declared an emergency Tuesday at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state following the collapse of a rail tunnel there.

The accident sparked an alert at 8:26 a.m. Workers farther away were told to remain indoors.

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.

"There are concerns about subsidence in the soil covering railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing facility", the statement said. It said no radiation has been released.

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The collapse was spotted by workers doing routine surveillance. Some were ordered to evacuate immediately while others were told to shelter-in-place as officials investigated the situation.

Officials report that they've just observed a sunken area in the soil and it's unclear whether the tunnel has collapsed.

The agency says it is too early to say what caused the cave-in.

Highly contaminated items were stored in the tunnel that has collapsed at Hanford.

In the past, rail cars full of radioactive waste were driven into the tunnels and then buried there, he said. The site has been described in media reports as the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States.

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The U.S. established Hanford in the 1940s, and today it is considered the most toxic place in the United States, with a local contractor undertaking a $110 billion clean-up of the 56 million gallons of chemical and nuclear waste still at the facility, NBC reported previous year. An emergency has been declared May 9, 2017, at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The site, about half the size of Rhode Island, in an area centered roughly 75 miles east of Yakima, continued to buzz during the Cold War, with more plutonium production, as well as the construction of several nuclear reactors, according to CNN.

The Hanford Site was part of the Manhattan Project, which led to the production of the first atomic bombs, including the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.

The last reactor shut down in 1987, shortly before the mammoth cleanup effort began.

In 2014, the Government Accountability Office panned DOE's cleanup strategy, stating that it hinges on the lasting integrity of storage tanks now holding waste.

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