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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 Crews Nearly Ready To Seal Up Tunnel With Grout ?

CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company
Hanford workers place a metal box into the soil covering the collapsed portion of Tunnel 1 at Hanford. Grout pipes will be installed through that metal box, down inside the tunnel.

Crews at the Hanford Site in southeast Washington state are running through rehearsals and last minute details. In early October, they’ll begin pouring grout, a kind of thin cement, into a partially collapsed tunnel full of highly contaminated radioactive waste.

?“Tunnel 1” is connected to the PUREX plant, a mothballed plutonium processing factory. This past spring, the train tunnel partially collapsed causing an emergency at Hanford.

Now, the government has hired a contractor to fill the tunnel up with grout to stabilize it and keep it from collapsing further

Credit CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company
CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company
This diagram shows how metal boxes are installed in the area of the tunnel that was breached and then filled with sand. The grout will run through the metal boxes in pipes to fill the tunnel.

It’s a major operation. The tunnel will take about 600 trucks of grout and about one month to fill up. It will all happen at night so the trucks don’t get stuck in traffic. ?

Workers have installed pipes that run down into the tunnel and a scaffold over the tunnel they call “the bridge.”

The contractor doing the work, CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company, said the grout mixture will be warm, but not at temperatures that will be trouble for the radioactive waste. ??

Critics of the plan worry that the federal government will never remove all this grout and the radioactive waste it encapsulates. They don’t want it to become a near-surface radioactive waste dump.

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.