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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.

Hanford Contractor Releases Fresh Plan To Keep Tank Workers Safer

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Anna King
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Northwest News Network
A Hanford contractor has released a plan to improve worker safety at the tank farms.

Hanford Nuclear Reservation officials Tuesday made public their plan to improve safety for workers in the so-called “tank farms.”

Hanford is home to 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge left over from World War II and the Cold War.

This new plan was spurred by more than 50 Hanford workers complaining of getting sick and an independent report by a national lab last year. That report said workers are likely being exposed to short bursts of concentrated vapors that are hard to track with the current monitoring systems.

This new plan proposes to regularly test the tanks’ headspace for chemicals, possibly increase the height of ventilation stacks and improve the communication about vapor exposures with employees.

Some recommendations are already in place, like putting workers on canned-air until better solutions are available and tested.

Watchdogs say they want more clarity when it comes to compensating workers for past exposures – which might have been missed by the old monitoring systems.

The Department of Energy has assigned a panel of experts to oversee implementation of the new requirements.

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.