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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.

Energy Secretary: Communication At Hanford Tank Farms Needs Improvement

Anna King
Northwest News Network
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited the Tri-Cities this week to look at projects at the Pacific Northwest National Lab and Hanford. Moniz says workers and tank farm managers need better communication to keep workers safe.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said workers at Hanford tank farms who say radioactive waste is making them sick need to be heard.

In June, Moniz commissioned an independent study of how things are going at Hanford’s tank farms. That team just collected the last of their data. They interviewed workers, and looked at vapor sampling data and worker safety programs.

Moniz said there is one take-away already: tank farm workers closest to the work should be better heard.

“And so we need to get that management/worker communication frankly improved,” he said.

Moniz told reporters he intends to make all that collected data and Energy’s conclusions public -- although we don’t know when.

Workers at the tank farms keep stopping work saying they are smelling harmful vapors that make them sick. Washington state even has a fresh court date with Energy coming up in October over it.

Hanford’s tank farms hold millions of gallons of radioactive sludge in underground tanks the size of a house. The tanks were built largely during World War II and the Cold War.

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.