Tunnel at Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant Collapses

May 9, 2017 Updated: May 9, 2017

SEATTLE—A tunnel was damaged on Tuesday at a plutonium handling facility at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, leading authorities to evacuate some workers at the site and instruct others to take cover, federal officials said.

Workers in one building were evacuated, and others in the immediate vicinity were ordered to take cover and turn off ventilation systems as a precaution after minor damage was discovered in the wall of a transport tunnel, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy said by telephone from the Hanford Joint Information Center.

Local media had earlier reported the tunnel had collapsed.

“There is evidence of a small sunken area of soil that covers the tunnel, but no collapse,” the spokeswoman said. “There is no evidence of a release and no reports of any injuries at this time.”

She declined to identify herself, citing agency policy.

No broader warnings were issued for workers in other parts of the facility or civilians in surrounding areas, said the spokeswoman, who stressed the precautionary nature of warnings issued to workers.

The site is in southeastern Washington on the Columbia River, about 170 miles east of Seattle. Operated by the federal government, it was established in the 1940s and manufactured plutonium that was used in the first nuclear bomb as well as other nuclear weapons.

Mostly decommissioned, Hanford has been a subject of controversy and conflict between state and local authorities, including a lawsuit over worker safety and ongoing cleanup delays. The site has been described in media reports as the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States.