Tunnel with nuclear waste collapses in Washington state

Nuclear plant

TWITTER DANGER Before the collapse underground tanks were reportedly leaking radioactive vapours

"There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point", the statement said. An emergency has been declared Tuesday, May 9, 2017, at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation after a portion of a tunnel that contained rail cars full of nuclear waste collapsed.

A spokesman for the Washington Emergency Management Division said the state Emergency Operations Centre has been activated. "Our understanding is that the site went into immediate lock down, in which workers were told to seek shelter, and all access to the area has been closed". Some were ordered to evacuate immediately while others were told to shelter-in-place as officials investigated the situation.

There was speculation that road work near the tunnel caused it to collapse.

"The subsidence of soil was discovered during a routine surveillance of the area by workers", it said.

"We don't know exactly how the soil caved in, it's too early", Heeter said.

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The tunnels, which measure hundreds of feet, were used at the beginning of the 1950s to store contaminated equipment and the cave-in apparently took place in an area where the two join together.

Heeter said there are eight rail cars inside tunnels at the site that are used to transport radioactive material.

CNN reported, since 1989, the government has been in the process of cleaning up the site, which state and federal authorities have dubbed "the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere".

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

FILE - In this July 9, 2014, photo, a sign informs visitors of prohibited items on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington.

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Hanford became a focal point of U.S. nuclear efforts beginning in 1943, when aspects of the Manhattan Project were moved there.

Hanford, which is roughly half the size of Rhode Island, spent decades making plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal. The site produced plutonium for the world's first atomic explosion and for one of the two atomic bombs that was dropped on Japan.

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

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

Before the collapse underground tanks were reportedly leaking toxic and radioactive vapours that have been linked to cancer, brain damage and lung damage.

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