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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.

Washington Health Officials Detail Concern Over Spread Of Contamination At Hanford

U.S. Department of Energy
File photo. The demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant at Hanford has led to the spread of radioactive contamination.

Washington health officials penned an uncommonly stern letter to the U.S. Department of Energy this week. It details concerns over the radioactive contamination spread at a Hanford demolition site.

The five-page letter highlights six main issues the state has with the management of the demolition at the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant. 

The cleanup site has been coming under increased scrutiny and management changes since waste has been found to keep spreading out of established bounds since December.?

The state isn’t convinced that the U.S. Department of Energy is doing enough to protect public health. The letter says air samples with elevated levels of radioactive waste keep trending upward.

The state is also concerned that DOE keeps widening the boundaries of the contamination site, indicating a loss of control.

State health officials also say by cleaning up the site this way, they’re creating more contamination problems than they’re solving. ?

The Department of Energy responded it’s committed to cleaning up Hanford while protecting workers, the public, and the environment.

Full U.S. Department of Energy response:

The Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office is committed to performing the cleanup of the Hanford site in a manner that protects workers, the public, and the environment. The Department has taken steps to stabilize contaminants at the Plutonium Finishing Plant (PFP) and improve the recovery of the PFP project, including requesting new contractor leadership for the project from Jacobs Engineering. ?

DOE has an established relationship with Washington’s Department of Health (Health) and we will continue our coordination with it. We welcome and expect feedback on our operations from Health as we conduct recovery activities at the PFP and other cleanup activities on the Hanford Site.

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.