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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.

Federal Government Reviewing Hanford Contractor Payments

Hanford Nuclear Reservation
US Department of Energy

RICHLAND, Wash. – The federal government is reviewing three years of payments to a major contractor at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The review follows growing concerns about a nuclear waste treatment plant at the southeast Washington site.

The federal Government Accountability Office is looking into the management of the Waste Treatment Plant project in a new report. It’s due out soon. That, and other questions, have spurred the Department of Energy into reviewing payments made to its contractor Bechtel. It’s building a massive factory that’s intended to treat 56 million gallons of radioactive waste.

Several high-level whistleblowers raised safety issues with its design and construction.

The Department of Energy's Carrie Meyer says, “The Department of Energy determined that it’s prudent to review the fee payments that have occurred between the Department of Energy and Bechtel National for the Waste Treatment Plant since January of 2009.”

A Bechtel spokeswoman says it will respond when the Energy Department asks the company to take action.