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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.

Circle Of Radioactive Waste Spread Keeps Growing At Hanford

U.S. Department of Energy
This map shows the extent of radioactive contamination near the Plutonium FInishing Plant at Hanford.

The area and amount of stuff contaminated by radioactive waste at the Hanford Site in southeast Washington state keeps getting bigger.

First it was two cars. Then it was eight. The count is now 14 vehicles that are contaminated with radioactive waste. Half of them are personal cars. One is even contaminated on the inside. 

?Now, houses around the Tri-Cities are being checked out—down to the heater filters. ?The tally so far is seven houses.  ?

It all started at the Plutonium Finishing Plant demolition site at Hanford. The PFP is an old factory that used to make plutonium buttons for bombs during the Cold War.

When contamination was found out of bounds last Friday, workers didn’t notify upper managers for more than a day. Then there was a wind storm over the weekend, that might have spread the contamination further.

Managers say no airborne contamination has been found so far.

Now instead of working on tear down, 183 workers are working on shoring up any areas with contamination by spraying fixative on the ground, and painting.

The U.S. Department of Energy is already a year behind on its legally-binding cleanup deadline.

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.