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Disasters and Accidents
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 Expert Says Grouting Tunnel Now Won't Stop Cleanup Later

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U.S. Department of Energy
File photo. Hanford officials plan to fill the tunnel that partially collapsed last month with grout.

Grouting up a tunnel that was found collapsed last month at Hanford is the best option according to Washington state’s top expert on Hanford. And it won’t preclude further cleanup of the radioactive waste inside.

Washington state Department of Ecology Nuclear Waste Program Manager Alex Smith has been doing a lot of work on that tunnel. It’s full of radioactive waste on train cars—it’s the leftovers from making plutonium for the Cold War.

Smith said the federal plan of filling that tunnel full of grout—if done right—will protect it from further collapse. And she said the tunnel’s contents can still be cleaned up later.

“It actually makes it easier to remove the waste at the end of the day,” Smith said. “Because right now it’s really difficult to get highly-radioactive, large pieces of equipment out of the tunnel. But if it’s encapsulated in grout that helps protect the workers.”

She said the grout could be cut up by a high-powered wire cutter into smaller pieces for removal. The federal government expects to grout the tunnel by late this year.