75 Years of Hanford: Open to Interpretations via Tri-City Herald


During the autumn of 1944, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor (B Reactor) and chemical reprocessing plant (T Plant) came online to produce weapon-grade plutonium at the top-secret Hanford Site. These plants forever altered the strategies of war.

The ability to accelerate bringing these facilities online was underpinned by integrating targeted science with applied technology. This involved a billion-fold scale-up between laboratory and full scale plutonium production.

Hanford produced two-thirds (60 tons) of the plutonium used in the United States for making nuclear weapons. This tonnage equates to 9,000 atomic bombs each having the explosive power of the “Fat Man” weapon dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945.

Hanford facilities also generated large quantities of radioactive and chemical waste. Some was released into the environment, exposing workers or those living downstream or downwind. The rest was stored, buried, or discharged underground.

The last of Hanford’s nine reactors shut down in 1987. The last of five reprocessing plants closed in 1990. But major environmental problems continued.

Today, approximately 330 million curies of radioactivity and 400,000 tons of chemical waste remains onsite. The need to significantly reduce Hanford waste generation and improve disposal/storage practices was reported to the Atomic Energy Commission as early as 1948. However over the decades, waste handling remained nearly unchanged and frequently unquestioned.


DOE signed the Tri-Party Agreement in 1989 — 30 years ago. Roughly $45 billion dollars has been spent at Hanford to date. But only 30-50 percent of this pays directly for site restoration.

The remainder of the annual budget of $2.2 billion supports management, site services and maintenance/monitoring of an aging infrastructure. The remaining costs are currently estimated at $110 billion over the next 70 years, though these plans are laced with significant uncertainty.

For example, the absence of geologic storage for containing defense packaged high-level waste and nuclear material could push Hanford into becoming a temporary or long term de-facto repository site.

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