Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
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.

Bryant And Inslee Spar Over Hanford Cleanup At Debate In Pasco

Washington State Debate Coalition
Republican gubernatorial challenger Bill Bryant responds to moderators as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee looks on at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Washington Wednesday night.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger Bill Bryant sparred in their last scheduled debate in Pasco Wednesday night over Inslee's record at Hanford and their stances on environmental regulations.

"We’re so focused on getting a lawsuit and a win in court, and being able to issue a press release saying we won," Bryant said of Inslee's approach to Hanford cleanup, "that we’re really not talking to people about how we can move up our time frame and clean up this mess."

A federal court ordered the U.S. Department of Energy in March to step up its cleanup solutions and timeline at Hanford, where waste is left over from the manufacture of plutonium for World War II and during the Cold War.

Inslee said his top goals are to keep workers safe from harmful fumes, keep cleanup moving along and keep Hanford work well-funded by the federal government.

"There is a tendency to just let things just kind of get kicked down the road," Inslee said. "So sometimes litigation is necessary and I think we are making the right decision."

Yakima Valley groundwater

Inslee said Yakima Valley residents need water safe enough for children to drink without worry about nitrate poisoning from agriculture.

"My administration is adopting a rule that will reduce the amount of nitrates that get into people's wells to preserve people’s health and children’s health," Inslee said. The Washington Department of Ecology is drafting new rules for dairies.

But Bryant, an agriculture export consultant and former Port of Seattle commissioner, said the water quality regulations in question are meant for the coast, not Eastern Washington.

"I'm going to impose a moratorium on all new regulations," Bryant said, "until the departments can justify the ones that we've already got."

Latino voting rights

Inslee and Bryant agreed that the city council redistricting that was done under court order in Yakima was a positive change for representation of Latinos in elected office.

"We need a vibrant democracy, and that means we’re going to have to, in some case, rearrange the lines so that everyone’s vote counts," Bryant said. "And that’s why I support legislation for the city of Pasco to be able to move their lines around so that every population can be equally represented."

Inslee praised the court order in Yakima for facilitating the election of Latinas to the city council for the first time. He also took Bryant's party to task for blocking the state Voting Rights Act, which would have let minority groups sue local governments when they are not represented in legislative bodies.

"In order to...give people, fundamentally, the ability to have their neighborhood decide who’s going to represent them, we need the Voting Rights Act to make sure that happens," Inslee said.

Those lawsuits happen now through federal courts. The state Voting Rights Act has stalled in the legislature four years in a row.

Phyllis Fletcher contributed to this report.

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.