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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.

Workers Say Hanford Waste Treatment Plant Less Tidy, Serious Than Portrayed

Anna King
Northwest News Network
File photo of the under-construction waste treatment plant at Hanford.

Hanford construction workers and managers testified in day two of a U.S. Department of Labor hearing Wednesday in Kennewick, where a different image emerged of  the site's under-construction waste treatment plant than is usually presented to the public.

The plant, which is supposed to treat millions of gallons of radioactive sludge when completed, has faced major delays. 

In the hearing, workers described management pranks that are too gross to detail, some where they were hurt. And this has become normal, they said. 

Some admitted to a practice called “pencil whipping” where work was officially signed off, but hadn’t been done.

The contracting companies’ lawyers made a case that managers only played harmless pranks, and that managers didn’t know jobs hadn’t been done by workers under them.

The hearing is to determine whether former worker Walt Ford should be awarded damages for losing his job.

The Labor Department found last year that Ford lost his job unfairly in 2011 for raising safety concerns while working at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant, and that he’s since been blacklisted from other jobs.

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.