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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's Top Watchdog On Hanford Retires After Decade Of Service

Kai-Huei Yau
Jane Hedges is set to retire as Washington state's top ecologist in Richland.

For a decade, one woman has been the top watchdog on the Hanford nuclear reservation for Washington state. Jane Hedges retires February 26.

Hedges said her top career moment was getting hexavalent chromium mostly out of the Columbia River. That’s the same nasty chemical made infamous by Erin Brockovich.

But, still on the to-do list is getting millions of gallons of radioactive sludge pumped out of aging underground tanks. She wants it bound up in glass logs at a massive treatment plant still under construction.

“The thing that’s hardest for me is seeing that it’s going to take two more decades, three more decades, maybe longer,” Hedges said.

She said over her decade bird-dogging Hanford, she’s seen that plant’s startup slip, by years, a couple of times.

Hedges has worked at the Washington state Department of Ecology on Hanford for about 16 years, 10 as the director of the Richland office. Hedges said she has no immediate plans to do consultant work at Hanford.

She plans to take up some volunteer work and also travel to see her adult children with her husband, who recently retired as head winemaker at one of the Northwest’s largest wineries.

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.