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00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d430000The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington was home to Native Americans and later to settlers. It turned into an top-secret military workhorse during World War II and the Cold War. Now, it’s one of the most pressing and complex environmental cleanup challenges humanity is facing in the world.This remote area in southeast Washington is where the federal government made plutonium for bombs during WWII and the Cold War. It’s now home to some of the most toxic contamination on earth, a witch’s brew of chemicals, radioactive waste and defunct structures. In central Hanford, leaking underground tanks full of radioactive sludge await a permanent solution. Meanwhile, a massive $12 billion waste treatment plant, designed to bind up that tank waste into more stable glass logs, has a troubled history.00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d440000Anna King is public radio's correspondent in Richland, Washington, covering the seemingly endless complexities of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Hanford Whistleblowers: Recorder Band Celebrates the Holidays

RICHLAND, Wash. – We’ve heard a lot about whistleblowers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington. Some workers there have gone public with serious concerns about how the government is cleaning up radioactive waste.

But this story is about a different kind of Hanford Whistleblower.

Every Sunday evening at 7:15 p.m. sharp, Chris Doran welcomes several Hanford Whistleblowers into his book-filled home. His wife Nancy brings out the tea and homemade baked goods. They sit and chat politely. And then, they start to play.

The Hanford Whistleblowers have been playing recorders for 30 years. Doran says a former member’s husband came up with the catchy band name only 15 years ago.

“Recorders are a type of whistle. And so he thought, ‘Oh! It’s the Hanford Whistleblowers.’ Because most of the people have had some connection, directly or indirectly, with Hanford,” Doran explains.

In fact, they’re all science and engineering professionals and retirees from Richland.

The recorders this group plays aren’t like the smelly, plastic loaner one that you may have played in fourth grade. No, these are high-priced machines of beauty.

Some of their recorders are as small as a sharpie pen and some are bigger than a fence post in your backyard.

The petite Debbie Berkowitz plays a low-toned behemoth that takes a lot of breath. She says she loves playing recorder with this group because, “I think we just do it because we enjoy each other and we have a lot of fun when we get together and we enjoy Nancy’s baking which we have before we play every week. So it’s just been, it’s just been a good time.”

The recorder is deeply rooted in classical music. Many of the great composers originally wrote for the recorder. Think Telemann, Handel and Vivaldi. Later, the music was switched for the louder flute.

Doran says even after about 30 years of playing the recorder, “It takes a long time to get better at it. It’s an easy instrument to play badly, and a tough instrument to play well. So, we’re still working on it.”

As I start to wrap up my cords, and say my goodbyes, I casually mention I had a plastic recorder once, and played the flute for almost half-a-year. The mild-mannered group suddenly turned on me.

“You played flute, and you played the recorder when you were in fourth grade so you are totally in,” said Nancy Welliver.

“We’ll see you Sunday night,” adds Doran.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.