"Federal, state and local officials are coordinating closely on the response, and the state Department of Ecology is in close communication with the U.S. Department of Energy Richland Office".
There was speculation that road work near the tunnel caused it to collapse. It is now being dismantled and cleaned up by the Energy Department.
The soil collapse was discovered during a routine surveillance of the area by workers, the alert says. A site area emergency is limited to the boundaries of the Hanford site but could affect staff beyond the immediate facility.
The building has been vacant for almost twenty years, but it remains highly contaminated. An emergency was declared Tuesday after the partial collapse of the tunnel that contains rail cars full of radioactive waste.
Reports are not now indicating any release of radioactivity. The Columbia nuclear plant was located about 12 miles southeast of where the incident at Hanford occurred, he said. The TALON device allows crews to safely survey potential areas of contamination from a distance of up to ½ mile.
No injuries have been reported.
As of 11:13 a.m., the Hanford emergency information website reports that crews are on the ground surveying the area near the PUREX tunnels for contamination that may be released by the cave-in over the tunnel. They rest on reinforced concrete footings.
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Hanford produced plutonium fuel for the U.S. military for four decades, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Workers demolish a decommissioned nuclear reactor during the cleanup operations at the nuclear site in Hanford, Wash., in 2011.
"They've got 177 underground nuclear waste tanks, majority were built in the 1940s", Carpenter said.
Hanford was constructed during the Manhattan Project and was the source for plutonium used in the first nuclear bomb.
The site was built during World War II and made the 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.
Heeter said there are eight rail cars inside tunnels at the site that are used to transport radioactive material. According to a facility statement issued late Tuesday morning, a 20-foot section of a tunnel caved in next to the site's PUREX facility (which extracts plutonium).
The Energy Department says no one was injured in the collapse onto buried rail cars filled with nuclear waste. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit previous year, alleging hundreds of workers have been exposed to toxins escaping from nuclear waste storage tanks.