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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.

Feds Propose Plan For Hanford's Tank Waste Challenges

U.S. Department of Energy

There’s a new plan for cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The federal government is looking for ways to process certain types of radioactive waste more quickly, while managers there figure out how to solve major technical challenges at its massive Waste Treatment Plant.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz released the new “framework” Tuesday after a year of study.

The plan addresses leaking underground tanks at Hanford. It calls for working around the expensive, complex and controversial Pretreatment and High Level Waste facilities.

Some options include treating the radioactive waste partially in the tanks before it ever reaches the treatment plant. Another option would send some waste to a federal site in New Mexico. And the federal government says it needs an interim facility to store the glassified waste at Hanford, since no national repository has been identified.

Secretary Moniz proposes to work on all these plans at the same time to hasten cleanup. Washington state officials say they’re encouraged but want more technical details.

Hanford critics say the new plan fails to include new tanks. And say it’s not clear what all this will cost.

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.