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Environment and Planning
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.

Federal Report Says Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant Construction Still In Question

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Anna King
/
Northwest News Network
File photo of the waste treatment plant at Hanford.

A federal watchdog agency said Wednesday that it's hard to prove that Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant is safe. 

A plant that will treat some of the nation’s nastiest radioactive sludge has to be carefully built, and each step documented. But the Government Accountability Office said in its report that the Department of Energy isn’t holding its contractor accountable, and that the agency and its prime contractor, Bechtel, might not be able to fully document the safety of the plant until around Christmas.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden called that unacceptable.

"The Department of Energy and the private contractor have still been unable to produce, at my request, the paperwork necessary to show whether the steel used at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant is safe," the Democratic senator said.

The report also founds the U.S. Energy department’s quality assurance experts might not be independent enough to oversee the contractor.