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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.

Washington State Fines Feds More Than $1 Million Over Hanford Cleanup Data

File photo. A new sign graces the entrance onto the Hanford site near Richland, Wash.

The Washington Department of Ecology has issued a more than $1 million penalty to the U.S. Department of Energy for withholding important information at the Hanford cleanup site.

Ecology leaders say without access to this data, they can’t effectively protect the land, air and water for residents in eastern Washington and surrounding communities. They say they’ve attempted to negotiate this issue with federal Energy managers for years.

Washington state regulators say the federal Energy Department is legally required to provide access to this data as part of the binding Tri-Party Agreement. That document was signed in 1989 and governs cleanup of the Hanford site.

Hanford is one of the most contaminated sites in the world –  including toxic materials like 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste. 

The Department of Energy says it has filed an appeal with the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board. A spokesperson wrote: “We will continue to provide appropriate access to information in a way that allows us to continue to adhere to federal laws and requirements.”

The DOE stores and treats waste in tanks with equipment that is 50, 60, or even 70 years old. Washington’s Ecology Department says it can only ensure the safety of aging infrastructure if the federal government provides transparent access to those operating records.

The Ecology Department says it aims to use the penalty funds to support eastern Washington communities.

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.