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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 Cleanup Would Likely Fall Behind With 'Sequester'

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Department of Energy

RICHLAND, Wash. – Major portions of the cleanup work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation could stall if budget cuts known as the sequester start in March. The impasse comes just as two tanks at the southeast Washington site may be leaking.

A report by the Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee estimates that the budget cuts beginning in March would furlough more than 1,000 workers at Hanford for about six weeks. The document also says that pumping radioactive tank waste out of suspect underground tanks to newer vessels would be delayed.

That’s a weighty issue, given that two tanks at the site appear to be seriously compromised. One double-hulled tank has an internal leak. And just last week, Hanford managers announced that another single-hulled tank might be leaking up to 300 gallons of waste a year into the soil not far from the Columbia River.

All of this puts already-tight legal deadlines between the federal government, the State of Washington and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in question.

Sequestration would also cut back work to clean up radioactive waste in Idaho, according to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.