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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.

How Much Digging Should The Government Do At Hanford?

U.S. Department of Energy

Removing and disposing of contaminated soil is one of the biggest jobs at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

So when government officials announced this week they want to look into digging a bit shallower at the southeast Washington site, a lot of people took notice.

Dennis Faulk heads the Richland office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and as been answering a lot of questions at Hanford cleanup advisory board meetings this week. He’s also asking the public whether federal Hanford managers should study digging less at Hanford --10 feet down around contaminated waste sites, instead of 15.

“These evaluations cost money to do,” Faulk said. “And if in the end they aren’t going to be accepted we want to kind of have a feel for that.”

Faulk said digging less, would be way less expensive.

The proposed study would be of the Central Plateau, Hanford’s most contaminated 10-square-miles. It features underground pits where liquid radioactive waste was dumped and 43 miles of radioactive garbage-filled trenches.

Some say the federal government should clean up everything possible so the land is safer for future generations. The federal government is working on finalizing work plans for this area by spring.

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.