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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.

Partially Collapsed Hanford Tunnel Filled With Grout

U.S. Department of Energy
Hanford's Tunnel 1 has been filled in with grout to protect from further collapse.

Back in May, a train tunnel at the Hanford nuclear site partially collapsed. Federal contractors have now just finished filling it up with grout. It took about 520 truck loads of grout to fill the tunnel.

Crews had been doing the work mostly at night since early October.

During the Cold War, the train tunnels were part of the PUREX Plant, a large plutonium processing facility. They were intended to store huge pieces of equipment that were worn out and highly contaminated with radioactive waste.

The tunnels have been of great concern, because further collapse could hurt workers or throw up a plume of radioactive dust that could escape offsite.

Ron Skinnarland, a manager with Washington’s Department of Ecology, watches over much of Hanford’s cleanup including the tunnels.

“I think the workers at the site did a great job in terms of doing this very risky work,” he said. “I think we’re just really happy that Tunnel number 1 is in a safer state now.”

But now that this grout’s in place, it might be difficult to remove safely. Northwest tribes—especially the Yakama Nation—are concerned that the site will linger without further cleanup.

Federal officials expect to have a public plan for the second tunnel of waste in early December.

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.