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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.

Hazardous Underwater Waste To Be Put In Dry Casks At Last

CH2M Hill
The water around the cesium and strontium capsules in the pools at Hanford glows a color of blue in an effect known as the Cherenkov Glow. The light comes from radioactive cesium and strontium decay.

There’s a huge building with a massive pool of water at the Hanford nuclear site in southeast Washington state. The water glows an eerie neon blue from an effect known as the Cherenkov Glow. The light comes from the decay of the nearly 2,000 highly-radioactive cesium and strontium capsules held in the pool.

It’s like something you’d see on "The Simpsons."

Friday, a $23 million contract was awarded to put that waste into a more-stable dry storage. And putting these capsules into dry storage is a big deal.

The pool and surrounding building are around 50 years old. The cesium and strontium capsules in the pool were separated out of Hanford’s 56 million gallons of tank waste in the 1970s. Officials separated it out to cool off the underground waste tanks that contain all the leftovers from plutonium production during WWII and the Cold War.

If Hanford workers can transfer the capsules into dry storage, there’s less risk from things like earthquakes or possible leaks in the pool. These new dry casks will be made to go into a deep hole -- like a Yucca Mountain.

The new casks will be stored at Hanford until there is a national long-term repository where they can be transferred. The Hanford contractor will begin constructing the dry casks in a couple of years.

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.