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Environment and Planning
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 Planning Document Leaves A Key Question Dangling

Hanford Nuclear Reservation
US Department of Energy

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington environmental regulators say a new 6,000 page plan for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is very useful. But it lacks a definitive path forward for treating a large part of the radioactive sludge there.

The most radioactively contaminated waste at Hanford is set to be bound up into more stable glass logs in a huge factory being built here. But the government hasn’t decided exactly what to do with everything else -- the Low Activity Waste -- in this new massive cleanup roadmap.

That concerns Suzanne Dahl, the tank waste treatment manager for Washington’s Ecology department. Dahl says after 10 years of work on this plan, the state wants the federal government to stop exploring options, and commit to binding up that low level waste in glass too.

“We don’t think that spending money trying to invent new technologies for something that you already have a perfectly viable technology for is a reasonable thing to do.”

The U.S. Department of Energy is keeping several options open: Binding up the waste in grout, or in a system called steam reforming.

On the Web:

Tank Closure & Waste Management plan (Hanford.gov)

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio