Irradiated US Nuclear Site Goes Into Emergency Lockdown

Hundreds of workers at a nuclear site in the U.S. state of Washington were ordered to take cover today after a tunnel filled with contaminated material collapsed, but there was no initial indication of a radioactive leak.

The Statesman Journal reports the Oregon Department of Energy has activated its emergency operation center in response to the Hanford emergency, which is 35 miles away from Oregon.

She said fewer than a dozen employees were in close vicinity of the tunnel and were also ordered to take cover. The tunnel is understood to have enough storage space for 48 rail cars.

Officials said they detected no release of radiation and no one was injured in the collapse, though thousands of workers were forced to take shelter for several hours as a precaution. "I would underscore this is confined to a small area of the Hanford site", Henderson said. The area contains about 56 million gallons of radioactive waste, most of which are stored in almost 180 underground tanks.

The Purex (Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant) separations facility at the Hanford Works is seen in an undated aerial photo.

No one was hurt when the tunnel caved in at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation site, causing soil to sink about four metres across a 400 sq ft area.

"Officials continue to monitor the air and are working on how they will fix the hole in the tunnel roof", the Hanford Emergency Information site announced.

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.

The former nuclear weapons production site employs more than 9,000 people, majority involved in cleaning up the nation's largest collection of nuclear waste. That created plutonium, which was extracted with chemicals, processed and shipped to weapons factories. Railroad tunnels lie underneath approximately eight feet of dirt. This morning, a tunnel containing rail cars with contaminated nuclear waste collapsed.

The senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said he is requesting that the Energy Department brief the committee on the root cause of the collapse. He also estimated that the total cleanup costs could fall anywhere from $300 billion to $500 billion. "There's no indication of contamination spread during this event".

There are no reports of injuries.

"Upon further investigation, a hole was discovered in that tunnel", he said.

"This is a serious situation, and ensuring the safety of the workers and the community is the top priority".

The plutonium used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II was made there.

A recently approved bipartisan federal budget deal for this fiscal year includes $2.3 billion for the ongoing Hanford cleanup, which matches the amount that Sen.

  • Leroy Wright