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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.

Inslee Expresses Concern Over Hanford Leaks, Other Areas of Site

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington Governor Jay Inslee Wednesday expressed his continuing apprehension over the tank leaks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington. He says as the Department of Energy and its contractors are evaluating more than 100 tanks with a new set of criteria, “I have real concerns about the remaining single shell tanks as well.”

Separately, Hanford managers said Wednesday they’ve successfully cleaned up a major part of contaminated land just north of Richland called the 300 Area.

So far, about 50 acres have been cleaned up. That area was riddled with contaminated buildings, and pits in the ground filled with radioactive liquid waste, spills and pipe leaks and a large inventory of other radioactive material.

That contaminated rubble and soil was hauled off to central Hanford -- further from the Columbia River -- to a mammoth radioactive waste dump. And some of the worst stuff was packed up in sealed canisters and sent to New Mexico.

Crews at the 300 Area have about 50 more acres to clean up in about three years. The most difficult task is eliminating the threat of a building called 324. That facility has highly-radioactive contaminated soil beneath it.


Austin Jenkins contributed to this report.

On the Web:

Hanford 300 Area Background - US Department of Energy
Hanford 300 Area Research - Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio

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.