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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.

Washington State Orders Hanford Managers To Empty Leaking Tank

U.S. Department of Energy
View inside the space between the two walls of Tank AY-102 at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The state of Washington has ordered the federal government to start pumping out a leaking double-shell tank of waste at Hanford by September 1.

This move comes after months of polite talks and planning. But now, the Washington State Department of Ecology says it’s fed up with waiting.

The federal government was going to start pumping out the leaking tank called AY-102 about 18 months from now. The state declared that to be unacceptable and is pushing the fall deadline.

Tank AY-102 is one of 28 double-shell tanks at Hanford. They contain hundreds of thousands of gallons of highly-radioactive liquid and sludge.

Right now, federal officials say the tank is only leaking in between its double hull walls. But the concern is it could leak out into the environment.

The old tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation hold the leftovers from plutonium production during WWII and the Cold War.

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.