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The Latest: Lawmaker: Collapse highlights safety concerns

Posted May 9

— The Latest on an accident at the Hanford Nuclear Waste facility in Washington state (all times local):

3 p.m.

The senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee says he is requesting that the Energy Department brief the panel on the cause of a tunnel collapse at a nuclear waste storage site in Washington state.

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone said the incident underscores the need for the Department of Energy to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety and security of workers.

The committee oversees the Energy Department's management of cleanup efforts at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

The Energy Department says no one was injured in the collapse onto buried rail cars filled with nuclear waste. It said no radiation has been released.

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

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2 p.m.

Non-essential workers are being sent home from a nuclear waste storage site in Washington state after the partial collapse of an underground tunnel where nuclear waste is kept in rail cars.

Many workers in the vicinity were initially ordered to shelter-in-place when the cave-in was discovered Tuesday at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation about 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

Hours later, the U.S. Energy Department said an undisclosed number of non-essential workers were being sent home.

The Energy Department says no one was injured in the collapse and no radiation has been released.

The former nuclear weapons production site employs more than 9,000 people, most of them involved in cleaning up the nation's largest collection of nuclear waste.

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12:30 p.m.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been briefed on the collapse of an underground railroad tunnel where nuclear waste is stored in a remote area of Washington state.

A U.S. Department of Energy news release says Perry was told the agency will monitor the situation.

The agency has said no one was injured Tuesday in the collapse at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and there has been no release of radioactive material to the environment.

The agency also says there is no sign that any workers were exposed to radioactivity.

The agency says it is too early to say what caused the cave-in.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the safety of Hanford's 9,000 employees is the top priority.

Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons and now is engaged in cleaning up the resulting waste.

11:15 a.m.

Officials say a collapsed patch of ground above a nuclear waste storage tunnel in Washington state was larger than first believed.

The U.S. Department of Energy said the Tuesday collapse covered about 400 square feet (37.1 square meters) instead of the 16 square feet (1.4 square meters) first reported at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Officials detected no release of radiation and say there were no workers inside the tunnel. Nearby workers were evacuated.

The agency says the rail tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with about eight feet (2.4 meters) of soil covering them. The U.S. Department of Energy says the incident caused the soil above the tunnel to sink between 2 and 4 feet (half to 1.2 meters).

Hanford for decades made plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal.

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9:43 a.m.

An emergency has been declared at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington state after a portion of a tunnel that that contains rail cars full of nuclear waste collapsed.

Randy Bradbury, a spokesman for the Washington state Department of Ecology, said officials detected no release of radiation and no workers were injured.

He says there were no workers inside the tunnel when it collapsed Tuesday morning but that nearby workers were evacuated and others who were farther away were told to remain indoors.

Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons and is now the largest depository of radioactive defense waste that must be cleaned.

The sprawling Hanford site is about half the size of Rhode Island.

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