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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


  • Hanford documents show possible safety violations

    An investigation by the U.S. Energy Department has found that San Francisco engineering firm Bechtel may have committed a wide range of safety and health violations at a plant it …


  • Hanford offers sent to hundreds

    A law firm representing several nuclear contractors has sent confidential settlement offers to hundreds of plaintiffs exposed to radiation from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation during World War II and the …


  • Energy chief to visit Hanford

    Energy Secretary Steven Chu plans to visit Hanford in June to hold a town hall and other meetings to discuss safety issues with vitrification plant workers. No date has been …


  • Hanford tower taken down during cleanup

    RICHLAND – A guard tower that stood over the Columbia River at Hanford for half a century came crashing to the ground Wednesday. “It’s really an iconic symbol of Hanford …


  • Hanford N Reactor guard tower pulled down

    RICHLAND — The historic Hanford guard tower that stood above the Columbia River for a half-century has been pulled to the ground.


  • Groups: Hanford study underpredicted levels

    A $27 million government study to estimate radiation doses received by the public from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s weapons factories is being called into question by other scientific organizations and …


  • Atomic Man still has lessons to teach after 35 years

    Thirty-five years after Hanford’s “Atomic Man” was sprayed with americium in the nuclear reservation’s worst radioactive accident, the case still has lessons for workers at the Department of Energy’s nuclear …


  • $12 billion may not be enough to finish Hanford plant

    The Department of Energy may not be able to complete the Hanford vitrification plant for the projected $12.2 billion, according to an internal DOE document.


  • DOE offers to settle claims

    The U.S. Department of Energy has tentatively agreed to settle the claims of 139 people with thyroid disease – the largest settlement so far in a massive civil suit brought …


  • U.S. settles with some Hanford downwinders

    The U.S. Department of Energy has agreed to settle the claims of 139 people with thyroid disease — the largest settlement so far in a massive civil suit brought by …


  • Defense safety board criticizes Hanford project

    A lax safety culture that deters timely reporting and resolution of technical concerns is endangering the success of a $12.2 billion plant being built at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear …


  • Novel depicts radioactive waste spill at Hanford

    The plot: A deadly earthquake rips through the Hanford nuclear reservation, erupting a graveyard of radioactive waste and releasing a flood of doom that threatens thousands of Tri-Citians. A Silicon …


  • Lasting home elusive for used Hanford fuel

    Critics challenging the safety of Washington state’s only commercial nuclear power plant say it should not get its license renewed until all questions about the integrity of its spent fuel …


  • Hanford downwinder succumbs to illness

    Deborah Clark, who was among those suing Hanford contractors over her thyroid cancer, has died.


  • Plaintiffs’ lawyers decry Hanford payment offers

    Sparks flew in U.S. District Court in Spokane Wednesday over settlement offers to 234 people with thyroid cancer who were exposed to radiation from Hanford in the early rush to …


  • Hanford radiation plaintiff near death

    A woman suing Hanford contractors over her thyroid cancer, whose request for an expedited federal trial was denied last year by a Spokane judge, lies near death in a Longview, …


  • Hanford downwinder Clark moved to hospice care

    A woman suing Hanford contractors over her thyroid cancer, whose request for an expedited federal trial was denied last year by a Spokane judge, lies near death in a Longview, …


  • Deputies say deaths may be suicides

    The Chattaroy couple found dead in a trailer home Friday tried to commit suicide in mid-October by overdosing on medication, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan said. The …


  • Heavy security part of Hanford plant’s past

    HANFORD, Wash. – The Plutonium Finishing Plant at Hanford has lost much of its sinister look. Metal detectors, razor wire, guns and dogs have become part of its past.


  • Highly contaminated soil found at Hanford

    Workers have found a nasty surprise beneath a Hanford building just north of Richland – highly contaminated soil from an undiscovered leak.


  • Workers find more radioactivity at Hanford site

    Workers cleaning up the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site have discovered an area of soil so radioactive it exceeds lethal limits tenfold, the U.S. Department of Energy announced today with …


  • Rail track recycling saves money on Hanford cleanup

    RICHLAND – Hanford railroad track, some of it more than a century old, is being pulled up to get yet another life – but after testing for radioactivity. Washington Closure …


  • Court approves new Hanford cleanup schedule

    The U.S. District Court in Spokane has approved a new schedule that delays the cleanup of radioactive waste from the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site by about 20 years.


  • DOE suggests tearing down reactor at Hanford

    RICHLAND – A key Department of Energy report is recommending that the K East Reactor be torn down rather than put into long-term storage like most of Hanford’s other reactors. …


  • Energy Department wants to remove Hanford reactor

    A key Department of Energy report is recommending that the K East Reactor be torn down rather than put into long-term storage like most of Hanford’s other reactors.


  • DOE: Hanford safety culture needs improvement

    Most workers believe the safety culture at the U.S. Department of Energy’s most expensive and most complex nuclear waste treatment plant is strong, but some worry they will face retaliation …


  • Hanford workers digging up hazardous wastes

    Work is nearly complete to help identify the type and amount of radioactive and hazardous materials at the 618-10 Burial Ground, one of the most hazardous sites on the Hanford …


  • DOE endorses Hanford B Reactor for national park

    Hanford’s historic B Reactor should be included in any Manhattan Project National Historical Park, along with key Department of Energy property in Tennessee and New Mexico, DOE has told the …


  • Outside view: For Hanford to improve, Yucca must be an option

    This commentary from the May 9 Tri-City Herald is presented in place of the customary Spokesman-Review editorial. They aren’t exactly breaking new ground. A coalition of Northwest environmental groups recently …


  • Wash. congressmen discuss nuclear fuel storage

    U.S. Reps. Doc Hastings and Jay Inslee say they will fight to keep the federal government from abandoning a proposed nuclear waste repository in Nevada.


  • Hanford deadlines changing

    TRI-CITIES, Wash. – 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 …


  • 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.