Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
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.

Workers Install Plastic Covering Over Collapsed Hanford Tunnel

U.S. Department of Energy
File photo. On May 9, a tunnel filled with radioactive waste caved in at the Hanford nuclear site. It result was a 20' x 20' hole.

Workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation are starting to install a thick plastic covering over a tunnel that collapsed on May 9. That tunnel holds highly radioactive waste left over from the Cold War.

?The tarp is intended to serve two purposes: One protect the environment and workers if further collapse happened. And two, keep rainwater out of the eight-feet of soil above the tunnel lightening the load.

Workers have been removing material like fence posts and power poles from near the tunnel in preparation for the covering. ?

The federal government and its contractor are making longer term plans for the tunnels and the results are expected to be public in the next few months.

The tunnel that caved in, known as Tunnel 1, is one of two train tunnels that were built to service the PUREX plant—a factory that processed plutonium for use in atomic bombs during the Cold War. The tunnel was built in the 1950s out of concrete and creosoted train ties.

Hanford officials have said the age of the tunnel, the very wet winter and spring, the construction techniques and and the materials used in the old tunnel might have contributed to its collapse.

Meanwhile, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown have asked for more federal cleanup money for Hanford. States expect President Donald Trump to release a more detailed budget proposal next week.

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.