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Workers at US Nuclear Site Take Cover after Tunnel Collapse

14 Mai 2017

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

The Department of Energy said the affected tunnel was one of two located next to a largely decommissioned Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility known as PUREX.

The two tunnels are each hundreds of feet long and are covered with about 8 feet of soil, according to the Energy Department, which added that "the depth of the subsidence of soil appears to be into the tunnel". Crews are now surveying the area near the PUREX tunnels for contamination.

A 20-foot hole in the roof of a tunnel at Washington state's Hanford nuclear waste site will be filled with clean soil, according to the US Department of Energy.

The site is in southeastern Washington on the Columbia River, about 170 miles (270 km) east of Seattle.

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

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

The closed PUREX plant was part of the nation's nuclear weapons production complex. "It highlights the enormous challenges that the USA faces in cleaning up its Cold War Legacy, which will take decades to restore".

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the Department of Energy and The White House reached out to his office after the incident.

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"Between 1960 and 1965, eight rail cars were pushed inside one tunnel, full of radioactive waste".

"They are looking at options that would provide a barrier between the contaminated equipment in the tunnel and the outside air that would not cause the hole in the tunnel's roof to widen", said a message on Hanford's website said.

She said fewer than a dozen employees were in close vicinity of the tunnel and were also ordered to take cover.

No action was required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties, the U.S. Department of Energy said in an advisory.

"The facility does have radiological contamination right now but there is no indication of a radiological release", Henderson said.

There had been a shelter-in-place directive for 3,000 workers at the entire Hanford Site, but that was lifted for most of the area hours later. That same year, six tanks at the site were found to be leaking radioactive waste. "There are various projects in this site and occasionally there is spread of contamination".

"This is a serious situation, and ensuring the safety of the workers and the community is the top priority". "I would underscore this is confined to a small area of the Hanford site", Henderson said.

The plutonium manufactured at the site was used in the first nuclear bomb tested in New Mexico and was also used in the atomic bomb that the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.