A collapse at a large nuclear storage facility in Washington has been reported AFP

Workers take cover at ‘most toxic place in America’ after tunnel collapses

The site was previously described by nuclear experts as ‘an underground Chernobyl waiting to happen’

Hundreds of workers have been forced to “take cover” after a tunnel in a nuclear finishing plant collapsed in Washington state.

Following the incident Tuesday morning, which a spokesperson told the Independent is still being investigated, a manager sent a message to workers telling them to “secure ventilation in your building” and to “refrain from eating or drinking.” The US Department of Energy activated its Emergency Operations Center Tuesday following the collapse. Some workers were reportedly told to evacuate while others were told to shelter-in-place as officials investigated the severity of the situation.

The tunnel reportedly contained highly contaminated materials including nuclear waste trains that are used to transport radioactive fuel rods. A spokesperson said that there was no evidence to suggest that radioactive materials had been released and that all of the workers in the area were accounted for. An official tally of those with orders to shelter-in-place was not immediately available, a spokesperson said.

“The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Richland Operations Office activated the Hanford Emergency Operations Center at 8:26 a.m,” the Department of Energy said in a statement. “There are concerns about subsidence in the soil covering railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing facility. The tunnels contain contaminated materials.”

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The dark area underneath the tall orange flag is the collapse site – a hole left by the tunnel collapse.

The nuclear site, located in the city of Hanford, is a former plutonium production site that was used to help develop the American nuclear arsenal 70 years ago. More recently, however, a private contractor hired by the Department of Energy is working on a $110 billion project to clean up 56 million gallons of chemical and nuclear waste stored in as many as 177 underground tanks there.

Before the Tuesday collapse, those tanks were reportedly leaking toxic and radioactive vapours and chemicals that have been linked to cancer, brain damage, and lung damage. There were at least 61 workers exposed to those deadly vapours last year. Experts have called the location “the most toxic place in America” and “an underground Chernobyl waiting to happen.”

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