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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.

National Academies Of Sciences Examines How To Treat Hanford's Liquid Tank Waste

Anna King
Northwest News Network
File photo. Liquid low-activity waste makes up the majority of the 56 million gallons of tank waste at Hanford.

The National Academy of Sciences is conducting days of meetings in Richland, Washington, this week. On the agenda is what to do with a lot of liquid radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

More than a dozen academy scientists are studying a steady stream of PowerPoints from experts on what’s called Hanford’s liquid low-activity waste. That stuff is mostly chemicals and contains low levels of radioactivity. ?

And there is big amount of liquid that needs treating at Hanford. It makes up the majority of the 56 million gallons of total tank waste at Hanford. ?

This waste still has long-lived radionuclides like technetium 99 and iodine 129. ?So, these scientists and experts are studying how to bind up this waste. The current deadline is by 2047. ?

So far, federal contractors have been building a massive plant to treat part of the waste. But this low-activity liquid waste is so much volume that another plant will have to be built.

?The big questions this group of scientists are wrestling with are whether this low level waste should be bound up in glass or maybe in another way like engineered grout and where that waste should ultimately be disposed for thousands of years. ?

The academies plans to meet in Richland several more times over this year and will make recommendations to the federal government.

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.