LOS ANGELES - Hundreds of workers at a nuclear site in the US state of Washington were ordered to take cover Tuesday after a storage tunnel filled with contaminated material collapsed, but there was no initial indication of a radioactive leak.

Employees at the sprawling Hanford Site plant, located about 170 miles (275 kilometers) southeast of Seattle, were sent an early morning alert by management telling them to “secure ventilation” and refrain from “eating or drinking.”

Federal officials at midday said there was no sign so far that any radioactive material had leaked following the collapse of part of the tunnel, which contained rail cars filled with nuclear waste.

The Hanford nuclear site was used to produce plutonium for the bomb that brought an end to World War II. Its last reactor closed down in 1987 but millions of gallons of leftover waste are contained in tanks at the site.

“There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point,” a statement by the US Department of Energy said. “Responders are getting closer to the area where the soil has subsided for further visual inspection.” It said emergency crews on the scene were reporting that soil had slid on top of the tunnel in an area 20 feet by 20 feet (six meters by six meters). “The subsidence of soil was discovered during a routine surveillance of the area by workers,” it said.

There were no reports of injury and officials at the plant could not be immediately reached for comment. The Department of Energy said the affected tunnel was one of two located next to a largely decommissioned Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility known as PUREX.

The tunnels, which measure hundreds of feet, were used at the beginning of the 1950s to store contaminated equipment and the cave-in apparently took place in an area where the two join together. Both tunnels are covered with approximately eight feet of soil.

The department said personnel at the facility were evacuated and workers in potentially affected areas had gone indoors. The emergency was declared at 8:26 am following an alert from the “200 East Area” containing the PUREX plant, which is no longer in use.

“Crews are using hand surveying techniques in the outer areas around the PUREX facility,” a statement said. “At and near the area of subsidence crews have deployed a TALON, which is a remote operated surveying device that is capable of radiological and industrial hygiene monitoring as well as capturing video footage.”

The TALON device allows crews to survey a potentially contaminated area from a distance of up to a half mile.

EU tells US: Funding UN more

important than defense spending

 European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Tuesday urged the United States to maintain funding for UN agencies, saying relief work was sometimes more important for peace than defense spending.

Mogherini delivered the message during a meeting of the UN Security Council that she also used to highlight EU support for the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Let me be very clear, and speak directly to our American friends,” Mogherini told the council meeting attended by US Ambassador Nikki Haley. “It is essential for us that we all keep investing in these UN agencies. They are as important to global peace as defense spending - and sometimes even more.”

The administration of US President Donald Trump is weighing deep cuts to its budget for diplomacy and foreign aid while seeking a $54 billion boost in military spending.

The United States is the biggest contributor to the United Nations, paying 22 percent of the $5.4 billion core budget and 28.5 percent of the $7.9 billion peacekeeping budget.

Mogherini argued that supporting the United Nations was for European countries a “crucial investment in our security”, stressing that voluntary contributions from EU countries amounted to half of the total UN budget.

European Union countries “proudly and smartly invest” in the World Food Program, the UN children’s agency UNICEF and the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, Mogherini noted.

She expressed hope that the United States will remain committed to the Paris Agreement, noting that all signatories develop their own action plans for meeting the limits on carbon emissions.

“I am sure there is room for the US administration to find its own path, being part of what the world has agreed together,” said Mogherini.

A White House meeting of Trump’s top aides to discuss the climate deal was postponed on Tuesday as capitals awaited a decision on whether the United States - the world’s second largest polluter after China - will pull out of the agreement.

Turning to the Iran nuclear deal that the administration has criticized, Mogherini stressed that the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, had confirmed five times that it was being implemented by Tehran.

The Iran deal “set a milestone for non-proliferation, making everyone more secure - in the region, in Europe and in the world,” she asserted.