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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.

Cleanup Options For Hanford's 300 Area Going Public

Federal officials are trying to figure out what to do about radioactive materials that remain at a place near the Columbia River known as the 300 Area. It’s the subject of a series of public meetings that kick off this week.

The 300 Area was where workers milled uranium rods and tested ways to process plutonium during WWII and the Cold War. They poured about 2 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste a day into sandy ponds and trenches right next to the Columbia River. Cleaning up buildings and material there has kept crews busy for 20 years.

One of the remaining jobs is to work on a 125-acre groundwater plume contaminated with uranium.

Michael Thompson, a hydrologist with the Department of Energy, says the plan now is to "sequester that uranium in place. In other words, chemically bind it up. We’re going to add phosphates to it. And the uranium then does not dissolve back into the groundwater and the groundwater will clean itself up within a reasonable amount of time.”

Another part of the 300 Area Hanford plan would dig up trenches full of radioactive garbage, and pipes and soil where radioactive liquid has leaked into the ground.

On the Web:

Proposed Cleanup Plan for Hanford's 300 Area - Hanford.gov