But in a conversation with someone ordered to take cover, it turns out it might not be as bad as it sounds.
Currently, officials are still working on how to fix the cave-in without increasing the risk that contamination will be released. The TALON device allows crews to safely survey potential areas of contamination from a distance of up to ½ mile.
ORIGINAL: 11:30 a.m.
A spokesperson with the Hanford Emergency Center discussed the collapse on Facebook Live. 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 evacuation did not affect the nearby nuclear power plant operated by Energy Northwest, company spokesman John Dobken said. Today, the site has leaked more than 1 million gallons of radioactive material into the surrounding earth. Milk and the dairies in the Valley could be affected as well.
"There is no evidence of a spread of contamination beyond this area", Heeter said.
"Secretary Perry has been briefed on the incident at DOE's Hanford site".
There is no estimate as to how long employees will be required to shelter in place, she said.
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The cause of the collapse was not immediately known.
The tunnel at Hanford contained rail cars used to carry the spent fuel to a processing facility.
Local media had earlier reported the tunnel had collapsed.
The cave-in was discovered during routine surveillance.
"Crews are using hand surveying techniques in the outer areas around the PUREX facility", the energy department said. It is located about 200 miles southeast of Seattle and is half the size of Rhode Island. The tunnels are located east of the PUREX Plant and extend to the south.
There are two tunnels: One is approximately 360 feet long and the other is approximately 1,700 feet long.
This photo shows a 20 foot by 20 foot area of collapsed ground near the site. Officials detected no release of radiation and said no workers were injured.
A 20-by-20-foot area of soil above the tunnels "subsided", the Department of Energy said Tuesday, significantly upgrading the scale of the breach from their previous estimate. The depth of the collapse appears to be 2 to 4 feet deep.
The initial alarm came at 8:26 a.m. Tuesday. The tunnel in question may itself contain items that were used when the plant was operating and which remain contaminated. And although workers were being sent home for the day, it didn't sound like anyone was in any immediate danger.
The government since 1989 has been in the process of cleaning up the site, which state and federal authorities have dubbed the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere.