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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.

Northwest Senators Question Energy Secretary On Hanford, Proposed Budget Cuts

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Northwest Senators had a lot of questions for U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry during a Senate committee hearing Tuesday morning. They grilled him on the safety of steel in a massive treatment plant under construction at the Hanford nuclear site.

As the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sen. Maria Cantwell said she wants the secretary to put money back in the budget for more research at national labs, and more money for cleanup at Hanford.  She said that President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would slash about $230 million dollars from the previous budget.

“It’s very important that we continue to make progress on the largest nuclear waste cleanup project in the world,” Cantwell said. “It is thorny, it is challenging. But we need consistent investment.”

Perry said he’s requesting a nearly 10 percent increase to the nation’s “nuclear deterrence” program. And he said he’s also asking for more money to clean up legacy wastes left at DOE sites across the country.?

Later in the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said he has serious concerns with the Waste Treatment Plant, the massive factory being built at Hanford to treat millions of gallons of tank waste. A top Department of Energy manager at Hanford recently penned a strongly-worded letter that said the quality of the steel used in the factory has not been properly documented.

“The project director said that this was a potentially unrecoverable quality issue,” Wyden said. “Basically, what that means in English is that they couldn’t open the plant after billions of dollars had been spent and decades of effort if that was actually the case.”

That manager was recently transferred out of his job overseeing the plant. Wyden said he wants to talk with him without interference or consequences. Secretary Perry said he agreed.

Hanford is a 586-square-mile swath of desert land in southeast Washington state, with hundreds of radioactive waste sites that need cleaning up. Fifty-six million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste are sitting in underground tanks there.

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.