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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.

Who’s Watching Hanford? EPA Presence Dwindling

Tobin Fricke
Wikimedia -

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is one of the government watchdogs monitoring the cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation. But recently the EPA’s Hanford office has shrunk in half.

Five years ago the EPA office in Richland had about nine people. Now, there’s not even an office manager or secretary. Currently, the agency has four staffers -- that includes its stand-in leader until a new unit manager is hired.

And now, according to the agency, the lead position could be shifted from Richland to Seattle.

That’s all bad news for keeping a close eye on Hanford cleanup according to Susan Leckband. She’s the leader of a stakeholder advisory board that watches over Hanford too.

“It is trying to spread a small group of people so thinly, that they can’t appropriately apply or react to the incidents that happen out there,” Leckband said.

Leckband said answers have been fuzzy and slow from the federal government about cleanup funding and oversight at Hanford. She’s also worried about several mandates given by top U.S. Department of Energy officials including an in-progress 45-day review to look for efficiencies in Energy programs and cleanup sites. ?

EPA’s Region 10 Hanford Project Office acting unit manager in Richland Laura Buelow declined to comment about her staff’s current staffing and workload during a call Wednesday afternoon.

Another oversight agency hasn’t shrunk—the Washington State Department of Ecology office in Richland has a steady 70 or so watchdogs and managers.

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.