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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


  • 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 …


  • Settlements being readied for some downwinders

    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 …


  • Hanford contractors announce hiring plans

    Hanford contractors say they are making quick work of identifying candidates for at least 600 positions they expect to fill in about the next six weeks with federal money to …


  • Hanford project receives cleanup stimulus

    RICHLAND – The Department of Energy plans to spend about $2 billion in stimulus money to speed some of the cleanup at Washington’s highly contaminated Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Hanford will …


  • Hanford to receive nearly $2B for cleanup

    RICHLAND — The Department of Energy plans to spend about $2 billion in stimulus money to speed up cleanup at south-central Washington’s highly contaminated Hanford Nuclear Reservation.


  • All Hanford nuclear reservation tours booked

    The free public tours of the Hanford nuclear reservation are all booked. Radio station KONA reports all 2,500 slots were filled Monday morning by online registration.


  • Hanford active area may shrink

    KENNEWICK – The Department of Energy is proposing shrinking the portion of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation that will need long-term active management to as little as 10 square miles at …


  • 9th Circuit sides with state on Hanford waste

    The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the state of Washington does have authority over certain radioactive waste mixed with hazardous chemicals at Hanford.


  • Court upholds state’s waste authority

    Washington state has authority to regulate mixed hazardous and transuranic wastes buried at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday. The decision upholds an …