A tunnel collapse at the Hanford Nuclear site forced workers to evacuate or take cover out of fear of a potential radiological release.
The incident occurred Tuesday morning, prompting the Department of Energy to issue an alert to employees, the media, and residents nearby.
“There are concerns about subsidence in the soil covering railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing facility,” the statement read. It later described a 20-square-foot cave-in of soil into tunnels carrying “contaminated materials.”
The DOE claimed that there is “no indication of a release of contamination at this point.” There are no reports of injuries.
The Washington state facility, located roughly 200 miles southeast of Seattle, was created during the World War II-era Manhattan Project, and is now home to hundreds of billions of gallons of radioactive waste generated from building up the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
Hanford is also the site of one of the largest environmental cleanup efforts in the world. Already the energy department has spent $40 billion since 1989 on disposing of stored waste. But it’s estimated the project won’t be complete until at east 2047, and could cost an addition $110 billion.
In 2014, the Government Accountability Office panned DOE’s cleanup strategy, stating that it hinges on the lasting integrity of storage tanks currently holding waste. Those tanks, the report noted, have design flaws, and are already leaking.
Hanford has also been subject of whistleblower retaliation complaints. Two employees of a contracting firm working on site came forward with concerns about the safety of a waste treatment plant under construction. The two individuals were then fired.
A Senate subcommittee convened a hearing on the matter, during which Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) concluded that concerns raised by the whistleblowers, Donna Busche and Dr. Walter Tamosaitis, were all “independently verified.”
The DOE’s inspector general, however, conducted its own probe, and said it was unable to determine if retaliation occurred.