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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.

New Science Teams To Tackle Hanford Plant's Vexing Challenges

RICHLAND, Wash. – Energy Secretary Steven Chu is bolstering the scientific brain power at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s waste treatment plant. A memo released to employees Thursday says the aim is to solve nagging technical problems at the plant more quickly.

The massive factory at Hanford is supposed to treat 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. That goo is currently in leaking, aging underground tanks near the Columbia River.

This new treatment plant is being designed and built at the same time. Parts of the project have been slowed or halted because of technical challenges.

Now, Secretary Chu says he’s naming new teams of scientists to solve those vexing problems as quickly as possible.

“In some areas there will be new employees that will be brought forth from National Laboratories or throughout the contractor ranks to help -- I’ll say -- strengthen those teams in some areas,” says the Department of Energy's Carrie Meyer.

The teams will tackle issues like: How to prevent corrosion inside the plant, how to keep hydrogen gas from building up and how to mix the waste well enough so it won’t cause a so-called criticality.

On the Web:

Steven Chu's memo to ORP employees (Dept. of Energy)

2012 Northwest Public Radio

The Hanford Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant or vit plant, located on the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford site is a 65-acre complex. Photo courtesy of Bechtel National, Inc.
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The Hanford Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant or vit plant, located on the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford site is a 65-acre complex. Photo courtesy of Bechtel National, Inc.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

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.