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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.

Hanford Archive Allows Peek Into Secrecy, Urgency Of Wartime

For decades, artifacts of life and work from the Manhattan Project and Cold War era at Hanford have been locked away. Now, these historical items are being trucked off the southeast Washington nuclear site and curated at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

WSU Tri-Cities’ Hanford History Project Director Mike Mays showed off some of the artifacts inside a cavernous warehouse. Among the archive are are old wooden desks, phone booths and scale models of reactors.

“We have hospital equipment, we have radiation safety equipment, we have push trucks, hand trucks,” Mays added.

There’s even a painted wood sign of Adolf Hitler. It’s a cartoon of Hitler with a big ears -- like he’s listening. It was supposed to encourage Hanford workers to button their lips.

“Especially when you see the objects themselves, it brings that history home in a way that stories in books just can’t do,” Mays said.

The full collections -- with thousands of items -- have been scanned for contamination and tediously declassified by the government. The Hanford collections will be studied and displayed at museums and used in schools.