Portion of tunnel containing nuke waste collapses at Hanford

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The collapsed tunnel is primarily used to store hazardous waste (on a temporary basis while the PUREX site awaits decontamination and demolition at an undetermined future date), and crews are working to assess whether any contamination has been released. The tunnel in question may itself contain items that were used when the plant was operating and which remain contaminated.

This image provided by the U.S. Department of Energy shows a 20-foot by 20-foot hole in the roof of a storage tunnel at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Wash., Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the safety of Hanford's 9,000 employees is the top priority. I appreciate that the White House reached out to my office to alert us to the situation as well. Anna King of the Northwest News Network, a public radio station collaboration, reports that approximately 3,000 other workers in the area were originally taking cover indoors.

Right now, Hanford seems to be issuing blanket permissions for all non-essential workers in the larger "200 East" area to go home early, but again, there is no specific evidence of any health risk to workers in the station itself, let alone for those in the surrounding area.

The latest estimate to finish the overall cleanup of Hanford is more than US$107 billion (NZ$155bn) and the work would take until 2060.

The Department of Energy said "Secretary [Rick] Perry has been briefed on the incident [and] the Department will continue to monitor this closely".

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According to KING5, there were no workers in the tunnel when it collapsed.

"At that point.an emergency was declared and about half a dozen employees at the facility were evacuated", he said.

The collapse occurred where the roof of one of the tunnels at the PUREX facility had caved in, affecting a 20-foot stretch of the roughly 100-foot tunnel, Henderson said. The 20 foot wide by 20 foot long cave-in is in an area where the two tunnels join together.

No workers were inside the tunnel when it collapsed but nearby crews were evacuated as a precaution.

ORIGINAL: 11:30 a.m.

"I am committed to working with you in prioritising what is one of the most unsafe, polluted sites we have in the country", Mr Perry told a Washington State senator during his confirmation hearing.

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"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.

The tunnel is next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as Purex. The building has been vacant for almost 20 years but remains highly contaminated.

"This hasn't happened before", US Department of Energy spokesman Mark Heeter told CNN.

Pallone said the Energy Department should provide details on the implications of the incident on continuing cleanup efforts.

Its last reactor closed down in 1987 but millions of gallons of leftover waste are contained in tanks at the site.

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