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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.

Several Workers Possibly Contaminated At Hanford Nuclear Site

Tobin Fricke
Wikimedia -

Since December 8, six workers at the Hanford Site have shown up as possibly contaminated. One worker was possibly contaminated twice.

It happened at the Plutonium Finishing Plant—a massive building that used to make so-called plutonium buttons for bombs since 1949.

Workers have been steadily working to tear down that plant since 2016. It’s nearly done. They think it will be slab on grade in January.

The workers wear small lapel meters on their collars. Those gave the signals that there might have been elevated levels of radioactive material around them.

The workers now have to undergo a bioassay. They test each workers’ feces to see if they might have ingested some radioactive material. Those tests will take about a month to get back.

The president of CH2MHill Plateau Remediation Company, the contractor doing the work for the federal government, said what’s vexing is that the contamination doesn’t appear to have any clear signature or single source. It will take investigating to find out where this material might be coming from. ‘

“We don’t ever take contamination events lightly,” CH2MHill Plateau Remediation Company President Ty Blackford said. “And if we don’t understand what it is, or where its coming from—the safety of the people first.”

Some of the contamination events happened about 150 yards away from the demo site, while the others happened in a load out area 400-500 yards away.

Of the possible contaminations three samples have decayed away already Blackford said, suggesting radon.

The company is working to identify where the contamination has been coming from. But workers are back on the job.

There have been about six other incidents of radiological contamination alerts at the Plutonium Finishing Plant demo job, but the workers didn’t get any dose, the company said. Contract workers will be off for Christmas starting after work on December 22.

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.