Hanford tunnel with nuclear waste collapses

Hundreds of workers at a nuclear site in the western USA state of Washington were ordered to take cover Tuesday after part of an underground tunnel containing rail cars full of radioactive waste collapsed. We talk to our U.S. correspondent.

The state's Department of Ecology has reportedly confirmed that there has been no detected radiation leak, and no confirmed threat to the health of workers.

As a precaution, workers in "potentially affected" areas have gone indoors, and access to the 200 East Area of the Hanford Site, which is located in the center of the site, has been restricted to protect employees.

The depth of the soil collapse appears to have reached the tunnel, Hanford's emergency information site says. It is now being dismantled and cleaned up by the Energy Department.

It is not known at this time what caused the cave-in at the tunnel used to store contaminated materials, officials said.

Employees at the PUREX facility were evacuated.

The building has been vacant for almost twenty years, but it remains highly contaminated. "There are no reports of injuries, no reports of a radiological release". Ten years ago, some press reports stated, the plant contained two-thirds of the high-level radioactive waste in the United States. The last of the radioactive waste was put into the tunnels in 1989, using remotely operated trains, they added. They rest on reinforced concrete footings.

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While authorities continue to investigate this incident, the main concern is that the radioactive material inside the tunnels could be released into the air. Reactors located at Hanford produced plutonium for America's defence programme and uranium metal fuel for commercial reactors.

Highly contaminated items were stored in the tunnel that has collapsed at Hanford. The Department of Energy says it's the most challenging of the government's nuclear cleanup projects, with millions of tons and hundreds of billions of gallons of nuclear waste.

The Hanford nuclear site was used to produce plutonium for the bomb that brought an end to World War II.

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

The site, which is about the size of Rhode Island, actually contains five processing plants.

As part of the huge, ongoing cleanup, rail cars full of radioactive waste were often driven into tunnels and buried.

It said responders on the scene were reporting that soil had slid on top of the tunnel in an area 20 feet by 20 feet (six meters by six meters).

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