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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 Tunnel Getting An Extra Layer Of Protection

U.S. Department of Energy
Federal contractors prepare to install plastic covering and large concrete blocks over the old tunnel at Hanford that collapsed recently. Contractors will have to wait for a calm day to do the installation.

Federal contractors plan to install another level of containment over the tunnel that caved in at the Hanford nuclear site on May 9. The tunnel was used to store old, highly radioactive equipment from a facility that dates back to the Cold War.

As soon as the wind dies down, contractors are going to cover the oldest underground tunnel at Hanford’s PUREX plant—a facility that processed plutonium for nuclear bombs—with a plastic covering. They’re going to anchor it in place with big concrete blocks on both sides.

The idea is to keep any radioactive contamination at the site. They don’t want things to dust up. The plastic might help keep the rainwater out of the eight-feet soil layer above the old tunnel. And that could decrease the load and maybe make the tunnel structure more stable.

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.