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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.

Competition Seeks To Save Money At Hanford

US Department of Energy
Federal, contractor and national laboratory staff participate in the Office of River Protection’s Grand Challenge Workshop this past July.";

Managers at the Hanford are looking for creative ways to save money through an idea competition with federal and contractor employees called the Grand Challenge.

Each team is trying to figure out a way to save the site $250,000 dollars of taxpayer cash. The competition started this summer with 28 proposals. Now that’s been narrowed to the top three.

These are not conventional cost-saving strategies like going paperless. Some of these plans describe ways to take out radioactive particles like cesium and technetium from tank waste. That could quicken the colossal process of binding up that waste into glass later.

Department of Energy manager Kevin Smith says the contest is intended to draw out great new ideas from the people who work with these complex problems every day “and see what has changed in technology over the last few years. The waste treatment plant has been in the works for a while, so things have been developed, new things known.”

Smith says the winning ideas will be chosen in about a month. No cash prizes for the winners, just bragging rights.

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.