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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 'Downwinders' Case Ends After Decades In Court

U.S. Department of Energy
File photo of nuclear reactors along the Columbia River at the Hanford site in southeast Washington state in January 1960.

After more than two decades of fighting in court, the Hanford Downwinders case has ended. The approximately 3,000 Downwinders have all either dropped their claims or arrived at a settlement.

During World War II and the Cold War, Hanford released batches of radioactive iodine into the air. It was mainly deposited in farming areas north and east of Richland, Washington. That radioactive material was picked up by dairy cows and deposited in milk, which many children drank. The radioactive material concentrated in their thyroids.

Most Downwinders were from Eastern Washington and Idaho. And many remain skeptical of the government and bitter after their fight. They say they suffered from illnesses and cancer. A lot of them dropped out of the lawsuit before receiving any compensation.

The U.S. Department of Energy released a one-sentence statement Wednesday that said it’s “pleased this long-standing matter has been resolved.”

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.