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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.

Radioactive Hanford Sludge Ages as Feds To Miss More Deadlines

U.S. Department of Energy
A tank farm at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation

Washington officials say they’re disappointed but not surprised by news that the federal government likely will miss several more cleanup deadlines at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. 

At Hanford, radioactive sludge stews in aging underground tanks not far from the Columbia River. A 1989 agreement created the timeline for treating that caustic gunk. But the task has proven extremely difficult: A waste treatment plant has been plagued by whistleblowers, critical federal investigations, cost overruns and delays.

Now, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz says that the federal government and its contractors will likely miss three more key deadlines before 2022, and possibly need to redesign major parts of the plant.

Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson called the news "yet another setback."

And Suzanne Dahl, the tank waste treatment manger for the Washington Department of Ecology says the Waste Treatment Plant is essential. In her words: “We can’t afford to throw up our hands.”

Department of Energy statement: 

The Department of Energy notified the states of Washington and Oregon that a serious risk has arisen that the department may be unable to meet the consent decree milestone for completing hot commissioning of the low activity waste facility and two related milestones.

Washington State Department of Ecology Statement:

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.