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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.

Hanford Watchdogs: Sending Tank Waste To New Mexico Won't Work

Anna King
Northwest News Network


RICHLAND, Wash. – A plan to ship some radioactive waste from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to New Mexico for storage won’t work. That was message Tuesday from three environmental watchdog groups. They’re asking the Obama Administration’s nominee for Secretary of Energy to drop the idea. 

Earlier this month, Governor Jay Inslee announced the federal government’s preferred storage site for about 3 million gallons of tank waste is salt caves in New Mexico. That’s out of 56 million gallons total stored at Hanford.

Now, environmental watchdog groups call this a waste of time. In a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, they argue the waste would have to be legally redefined and a new plant would be required to dry-down or bind-up the waste in grout. Tom Carpenter heads the group Hanford Challenge and calls the New Mexico option a “bar napkin plan.” 

“It’s years and years away. And it’s a distraction. So I think that its something that the government ought to drop, New Mexico doesn’t want it. And instead focus our efforts on building those new tanks,” Carpenter says. 

The Department of Energy did not respond for comment. Meanwhile, up to three gallons of radioactive waste a day seeps into the ground from underground tanks at Hanford.

The Natural Resources Defense Council based in Washington, D.C., the Southwest Research and Information Center out of Albuquerque, New Mexico and the Seattle-based group Hanford Challenge penned the letter to Secretary Chu.

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.