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Environment and Planning
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 To Grout Up Second Tunnel Of Radioactive Waste

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U.S. Department of Energy
Artist's rendition of what might be inside of Tunnel 2 at the Hanford Site.

The U.S. Department of Energy is about start shoring up another train tunnel full of old radioactive equipment at the Hanford Site in southeast Washington state. This is all happening because a similar train tunnel full of waste—called Tunnel 1—collapsed this spring.

Federal contractors filled that tunnel with grout in November.

Tunnel 2 is a lot larger than Tunnel 1—nearly 1,700 feet long and holds 28 rail cars containing old contaminated equipment from a plutonium processing plant. Crews expect to start grouting up the tunnel before next fall.

Critics, including Northwest tribes, have said that grouting closed these massive tunnels essentially makes them permanent radioactive waste dumps.

Tunnel 2 was built in the early 1960s and has had known structural problems. Government officials worry that the tunnel is under strain and that another collapse could send up a plume of radioactive dust.