Workers evacuated at nuclear site in Washington

Spokesman Destry Henderson said response crews discovered that the damage was more extensive than first thought, after they found a 400-square-foot section of the decommissioned rail tunnel had collapsed.

"No action is now required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties", the Energy Department said, referring to the almost 300,000 residents near the site about 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

Hundreds of workers were told to take cover at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation after a tunnel full of highly contaminated materials collapsed Tuesday morning.

The emergency was declared at 8:26 a.m. following an alert from the "200 East Area" containing the PUREX plant, which is no longer in use.

The senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee says he is requesting that the Energy Department brief the panel on the cause of a tunnel collapse at a nuclear waste storage site in Washington state.

Hanford was the site of USA military plutonium production activities from 1943 until 1987.

Officials detected no release of radiation and say there were no workers inside the tunnel.

The Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant was built in the 1950s.

The department said personnel at the facility were evacuated and workers in potentially affected areas had gone indoors.

A spokesman for the Washington Emergency Management Division said the state Emergency Operations Center has been activated and is monitoring the situation. It is unclear how much radioactive material was present in the tunnel at the time of the emergency. The TALON device allows crews to safely survey potential areas of contamination from a distance of up to ½ mile. My office is in close communication with these agencies and directly with Department of Energy headquarters in DC.

Four years ago, Washington Governor Jay Inslee dragged the Hanford site into the spotlight after disclosing that six tanks holding radioactive waste at the complex were leaking, with one underground storage tank losing as much as 300 gallons of radioactive sludge a year.

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.

The latest estimate to finish the overall cleanup of Hanford is more than $107 billion and the work would take until 2060.

The Post's story ran online under the headline, "Tunnel collapses at Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state". "I would underscore this is confined to a small area of the Hanford site", Henderson said.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry acknowledged the problem with nuclear waste, saying the nation can no longer delay fixing the problem because lives are at stake.

Hanford is the largest depository of radioactive waste, containing 56 million gallons of it, mostly in underground tanks.

  • Larry Hoffman