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Hanford

Summary

Tumbleweeds pile up against the fence of the first production reactor built alongside the Columbia River at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in this 1994 photo by Christopher Anderson.

In 1943, the federal government chose Hanford, in Washington state, to make plutonium for the Manhattan Project, a secret wartime effort to build an atomic bomb. That military mission ended in 1988, launching a cleanup effort that continues to this day. In 1994, S-R reporters Karen Dorn Steele and Jim Lynch wrote a five-day series called Wasteland detailing the money spent on Hanford’s cleanup.

In an agreement reached in the early days of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government agreed to indemnify the nuclear contractors making plutonium at Hanford, including corporate giants General Electric and E.I. DuPont de Nemours.

That means U.S. taxpayers have also been paying the legal bills for the Hanford contractors’ defense in lawsuits by “downwinders” who say they were sickened by pollution from the facility – over $60 million so far – as well as any settlements to individual plaintiffs and favorable verdicts in the Hanford case.

Key places

  • B Reactor

    The B Reactor was the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor and produced the plutonium used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. This World War II-era file photograph taken by the federal government shows the B reactor during its early plutonium production days. It was shut down in 1968 and in 2008 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

More information

Latest updates in this topic


  • New Hanford radiation cleanup deadlines proposed

    The Department of Energy and its regulators have agreed to new legally binding environmental cleanup deadlines for radioactive waste that has been temporarily buried at central Hanford since 1970.


  • Washington sues to keep Yucca alive

    YAKIMA – Washington state filed suit Tuesday to stop the federal government from permanently abandoning the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, marking the latest clash in a long-standing dispute over …


  • Wash. sues to stop feds from abandoning Yucca

    Washington state has filed suit to stop the federal government from permanently abandoning the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, marking the latest clash in a long-standing dispute over where the …


  • Hanford waste stranded by Yucca Mountain decision

    The tanks are still there, 177 in all, packed with 53 million gallons of radioactive waste. One million gallons have leached into the desert soil.


  • Judge denies sick woman’s motion for speedy trial

    A judge today denied a sick woman’s motion for an expedited trial in the long-running Hanford “downwinders” lawsuits.


  • Sick downwinder seeks trial

    With the fingers of her right hand, Deborah Clark presses firmly on a gaping surgical hole in her neck. It’s the only way she can speak. The words that emerge …


  • Hanford’s risks are large

    Even after billions of dollars are spent cleaning up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, radioactive waste could threaten the Columbia River for thousands of years to come. A government analysis shows …


  • In brief: Energy Department to discuss Hanford

    The cleanup of underground storage tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation will be the topic of a public meeting from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. tonight at the Red Lion …


  • Analysis warns Hanford cleanup would take decades

    PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal proposal for cleaning up the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site says radioactive contaminants from the sprawling Hanford nuclear reservation could threaten the Columbia River for …


  • Swarm of small quakes in past year under Hanford

    In the past year about 2,000 small quakes have rattled an area under the Hanford nuclear reservation.


  • More Hanford downwinder claims going to trial

    More Hanford downwinders could be going to trial to have their claims heard in a 19-year-old case.


  • More ex-Hanford workers may be eligible for money

    More former workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation may be eligible for compensation for developing cancer due to radiation exposure.


  • State’s stimulus take hefty

    In the race for stimulus dollars, Washington is well ahead of the pack in winning valuable government contracts. Federal contracts awarded to companies and government agencies in the state are …


  • Excavators unearthing a bottled-up history

    RICHLAND – A glass beer bottle with a faded label that says “brewed in Walla Walla.” Two children’s marbles. A 1938 Buick Roadmaster hubcap. Heavy white ceramic shaving mugs. And …


  • GAO suggests leaving more waste in Hanford tanks

    The Government Accountability Office says the Energy Department should consider leaving more waste in underground tanks at the Hanford nuclear reservation.


  • Editorial: Abandoning waste site undoes years of planning

    In 1987 – a full 42 years after the onset of the Manhattan Project – Congress settled on Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the permanent repository for more than 14,000 …


  • Study: Higher cancer rates for Hanford workers

    Former Hanford construction workers have an increased risk of death from a blood cancer linked to radiation and another cancer linked to asbestos, according to a new study.


  • Hanford landfill may tell of history

    RICHLAND – Fifty-thousand people produce a lot of trash. Who knew their dumpsite could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places? A dusty, rural stretch of southeast Washington …


  • Okanogan fire destroys home, prompts evacuation

    Wildfires near Okanogan in north central Washington have destroyed one home and are threatening 50 others, prompting a mandatory evacuation of the area.


  • Editorial: Hanford assurances too familiar to taxpayers

    Residents of the Pacific Northwest can be forgiven if they don’t share the confidence and enthusiasm that a lineup of state and federal officials showed last week when they announced …


  • Feds inspecting Hanford nuclear power plant

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is conducting a special inspection of the power plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation because of the electrical fire that shut it down.


  • Hanford gets new timeline

    RICHLAND – Washington state and federal officials announced a court-enforceable schedule Tuesday for cleaning up the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, ending more than two years of negotiations that followed …


  • New agreement reached on Hanford cleanup deadlines

    RICHLAND — Washington state and federal officials have agreed on new cleanup deadlines for the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site.


  • Work to start on Hanford K reactors burial ground

    RICHLAND — A Pocatello, Idaho, company has won a $9 million contract to clean up a burial site at the Hanford nuclear reservation that contains radiation-contaminated waste.


  • Hanford considered for national mercury storage

    The Hanford nuclear reservation is one of seven sites the Energy Department is considering as a national, long-term storage site for mercury.


  • Hanford plant shows progress

    RICHLAND – Workers at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site are approaching a turning point in building a massive waste treatment plant there, more than two years after the federal …


  • Hanford landfill draws concerns

    RICHLAND – A landfill for low-level radioactive waste at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site has room to expand, but an advisory board is concerned about the levels of radioactivity …


  • Workers dig up contaminated nests at Hanford

    YAKIMA – Workers at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site are conducting a sting operation to dig up radioactive wasp nests that could number in the thousands. Mud dauber wasps …


  • Radioactive wasps causing a buzz at Hanford

    Workers at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site are conducting a sting operation to dig up radioactive wasp nests that could number in the thousands.


  • Study probes interruptions at Hanford

    RICHLAND – Work to clean out nuclear waste from underground tanks and to build a plant to treat the waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was stopped 31 times over …


  • Hanford violators will get stimulus

    RICHLAND – Federal contractors that were heavily fined for environmental and safety violations at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site will receive much of the $2 billion in economic stimulus …


  • Hanford contractors ready to settle

    For the first time in the protracted Hanford downwinders lawsuit, the lead lawyer for government contractors said Tuesday his companies are ready to offer cash settlements to a few of …