Employees Evacuated from Washington Nuclear Site

Ted S. Warren/AP file photo

This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. EST

Officials at the Energy Department’s Richland, Wash., office declared an emergency at the Hanford Nuclear Site Tuesday morning after the ground sank above a portion of an underground tunnel containing rail cars of nuclear waste.

The emergency was declared at 8:26 a.m. local time, and employees have been evacuated from the portion of the site affected—the 200 East Area—while others have been instructed to remain indoors as a precautionary measure. No workers were in the tunnel at the time of the incident.

By noon local time, the soil had subsided by about two to four feet in a 20-feet-by-20-feet area over one of the tunnels next to the site’s Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility. The overall depth of the soil above the tunnels is about eight feet.

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After the initial emergency declaration, the alert was expanded to a Site Area Emergency, which refers to an event that affects or could potentially affect personnel outside of the facility’s boundaries—but not beyond Hanford.

Responders reported that there still is no indication that radioactive materials have been released from the hole in the tunnel. Crews, who are using a mix of hand-surveying techniques and remote surveying devices, will continue to monitor the air in the vicinity.

Officials with the Hanford Joint Information Center told Government Executive that there are no injuries and all employees are accounted for.

The Hanford Fire Department is on the scene, and there is currently no evidence of a tunnel collapse. And while emergency workers are conducting radiological surveys, there is no sign that radioactive materials have been released into the air, officials said.

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