Hanford tunnel containing nuclear waste collapses

Henderson said work continued overnight to prepare to fill the collapsed segment of the tunnel. An employee advisory is still in effect for workers today as crews prepare to fill the hole with new soil.

The spokesman warns the process will be done slowly, safely and methodically.

There are two tunnels dug into the hillside at the site, the shorter of which suffered the collapse that ran for about 20 linear feet. One tunnel, about 110 meters long, contains eight rail cars loaded with contaminated equipment.

The Energy Department was warned in a 2015 report it commissioned that both tunnels were vulnerable to a collapse from an quake or deterioration of tunnel building materials caused by intense radiation, the report said. The tunnel, constructed in the haste of the Cold War, was about 360-feet-long and built out of timbers and concrete.

The U.S. Department of Energy said Wednesday that workers were building a gravel road to reach the cave-in, located in the middle of the sprawling reservation in eastern Washington state.

Luckily, there was no sign of any release of radioactive materials.

The cleanup is expected to cost more than $100 billion dollars by the time it is completed in 2060.

People were anxious that the radiations released from the tunnel may affect them especially that Hanford is close to Richland, around 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

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Governor Jay Inslee said that he is extremely concerned about how the tunnel collapse happened.

About six Hanford employees discovered the tunnel collapse Tuesday morning and an emergency was declared about 8:30 a.m.

The government has had a spotty record on safety where federal nuclear power and weapons production have contaminated the environment. It has not been occupied in 20 years and remains contaminated by radioactivity. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that there had been "no indication of worker exposure or an airborne radiological release".

The Hanford Site is a mostly decommissioned nuclear production complex operated by the US government on the Columbia River.

"I know that's one of the things that they've been trying to determine, is when it might have happened", said Ken Niles, the administrator of the Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board for the Oregon Department of Ecology.

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

Workers near the site were evacuated and hundreds of others farther away were told to remain indoors for several hours, the federal agency said. Now mostly decommissioned, it is the largest repository of nuclear waste in the United States, holding 211 million litres in underground storage tanks.

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.

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