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Hundreds of workers were warned to take cover after a tunnel collapsed Tuesday in a shuttered Washington plutonium uranium extraction plant that was previously used in nuclear weapons production.

The tunnel at the Hanford plant near Richland was full of contaminated particles, including radioactive trains that transport fuel rods, KING5 reported.

Randy Bradbury, a spokesman for the Washington state Department of Ecology, told the Associated Press there had been no release of radiation and no workers were injured.

There were no workers were in the tunnel at the time of the collapse, the AP reported.

Those at the site of the incident had already been evacuated while workers elsewhere at the plant were told to remain indoors.

The U.S. Department of Energy Richland Operations Office activated the Hanford Emergency Operations Center at 8:26 a.m. local time, after an alert was declared, according to the official Hanford site. The Hanford Fire Department was at the plant, though photos from the scene showed firefighters waiting for the official word to move closer to the site of the accident.

“There are concerns about subsidence in the soil covering railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing facility,” a statement on the Hanford site said. “The tunnels contain contaminated materials.”

A text message sent to all personnel and obtained by KING5 told workers to “secure ventilation in your building” and “refrain from eating or drinking.”

Crews doing road work near the plant may have caused vibrations that triggered the collapse, a source told KING5.

Production at the Hanford plant dates back to the “Manhattan Project” to develop the first nuclear bomb during World War II. The plutonium produced there was primarily used in Defense Department projects. 

More than 20 million pieces of uranium metal fuel for nine nuclear reactors were made at Hanford, according to The Department of Energy.

Plutonium production ended at the site in the 1980s and cleanup began in 1989.

The entirety of the massive plant is half the size of Rhode Island, and no one has entered the main portion of the plant since 1997, the AP reported.



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