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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.

Finding Gravitational Waves: One Man's Life Goal Realized After Nearly 30 Years

Anna King
Northwest News Network
Fred Raab has worked for nearly 30 years on LIGO in California and at Hanford to see the discovery of gravitational waves.

Scientists announced Thursday they have found gravitational waves in the fabric of spacetime. One man who leads work at what’s called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory -- or LIGO -- station on the Hanford site, has been working on this singular project for nearly 30 years.

Fred Raab knew back in the ‘80s that he had to decide: look for these gravitational waves, or do something else with his life?

“I realized that this would happen. And that it would likely happen sometime in my lifetime,” he said. “The thing I was most worried about was someday reading in the New York Times that it had happened and turning down the chance to be a part of it.”

And last September, early on a Monday morning a very clear signal was received by the LIGO stations’ instruments at Hanford and in Louisiana. The waves were made from two black holes crashing together more than a billion years ago.

The scientists poured over the data for months before announcing the discovery and releasing their science this week. Raab said his only other worry was living long enough to see this moment of first discovery -- his white whale.

His team has plenty of discoveries ahead on black holes and dying stars. But Raab said, now it’s time to party like scientists.

All this work was done at LIGO at Hanford and the twin station in Louisiana. Another two stations are starting up in Italy and Japan.

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.