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Doubts, Costs Dog Hanford Nuclear Cleanup Plan

Visible in the distance are the aging reactors and processing plants in which the U.S. manufactured the guts for thousands of nuclear weapons. Production stopped in the 1980s. Now the Hanford reservation's 10,000 workers are focused on cleaning it up.
Martin Kaste, NPR
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Visible in the distance are the aging reactors and processing plants in which the U.S. manufactured the guts for thousands of nuclear weapons. Production stopped in the 1980s. Now the Hanford reservation's 10,000 workers are focused on cleaning it up.
The plan at Hanford is to mix radioactive waste sludge with glass to stabilize it, then use steel canisters like this one for long-term storage.
Martin Kaste, NPR /
/
The plan at Hanford is to mix radioactive waste sludge with glass to stabilize it, then use steel canisters like this one for long-term storage.

The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars cleaning up highly toxic plutonium waste in Hanford, Wash., where much of the fuel for the nation's nuclear weapons was produced throughout the Cold War.

Production stopped in the 1980s, but millions of gallons of radioactive waste remain in underground tanks -- though some of it has already leaked into the soil.

The centerpiece of the $5.7-billion cleanup project relies on vitrification -- binding the radioactive waste with glass to create solid waste that won't leach into the ground.

But the project -- massively over budget and behind schedule -- has ground to a halt. Some worry that the Department of Energy will give up on cleaning up the site completely.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.