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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.

Radioactive Waste At Hanford Keeps Spreading

Tobin Fricke
Wikimedia -

Radioactive waste keeps spreading at a demolition site at Hanford. This week, officials have found more contamination on a worker’s boot, on a work trailer and a personal vehicle.

Now, a rental car that’s possibly contaminated has ended up in Spokane. It’s now on a trailer headed back to the Tri-Cities for testing. ?

There has also been a reshuffling of managers this week at the Plutonium Finishing Plant. U.S. Department of Energy officials say they hope the change will better protect employees and the public from contamination. ?

Stephanie Schleif watches over the plant’s demolition for Washington’s Department of Ecology. She’s concerned that DOE can’t keep contamination from popping up in unexpected places.

“We’re hoping sooner rather than later [Department of Energy managers] have some answers for us,” Schleif said.

The DOE has convened an expert panel to suss out what’s gone wrong. They’ll also study how the demolition project can start up safely again. Cleanup work on the old factory—and about 200 workers—have been idled since 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.