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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.

Feds Strike New Deal On K-West Basin Sludge Cleanup At Hanford

Hanford's ''sister reactors'', the K-East and the K-West Reactors, went into service in 1955.

Two branches of the federal government struck a deal Tuesday on when to clean up radioactive sludge near the Columbia River.

The K-West Basin waste is a mix of decomposed radioactive fuel rods, sand and other tidbits that would fall into a sort of dirty, highly radioactive swimming pool. All that sludge was vacuumed up and put in big metal boxes, but it’s all still sitting there underwater.

The Department of Energy was supposed to take that waste up, ship into the center of Hanford and treat it. Since fall of 2014 the Environmental Protection Agency has said the federal Department of Energy has been out of compliance -- they didn’t start getting the sludge away from the river. So the EPA was assessing fines of up to $10,000 per week.

This latest deal says the EPA will fine DOE $125,000 and sludge removal will be complete by the end of 2019.

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.