Hanford VIT Plant

Columbia River Radioactive Cleanup

To zoom, hover your mouse over the text and images on the display. The text is also available below.


PDF version

Tank Waste and Cleanup Commitment

The making of plutonium was a complex chemical process. It was carried out at Hanford on a massive scale.

The nuclear fuel was fabricated from uranium at the south end of the Hanford Site and was loaded into nuclear reactors located along the Columbia River. In the reactors, the uranium was bombarded with neutrons, transforming a small amount of the uranium into plutonium, the key ingredient in nuclear weapons. The irradiated fuel was dissolved in acid and run through a complex series of chemical processes. Plutonium was extracted, and leftover uranium was recovered to make new fuel.

The radioactive and chemical waste produced in these processing plants was placed in temporary storage in large underground tanks, where it remains today.

Today, there are 177 underground tanks at Hanford containing 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical wastes. Most of Hanford’s underground waste tanks – 149 of them – are single-shell tanks. The tanks are decades beyond their design life, and nearly half of the single-shell tanks have leaked a combined million gallons of hazardous, radioactive liquid into the soil. Some of this waste has reached groundwater, threatening the nearby Columbia River.

In 1989, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington State Department of Ecology signed a landmark agreement that, for the first time in its history, placed Hanford under federal and state environmental standards. Known as the Tri-Party Agreement, the document set a timetable to clean up Hanford and bring it into compliance with federal and state laws.

View additional displays in this section:

Return to virtual open house home

The making of plutonium was a complex chemical process. It was carried out at Hanford on a massive scale.

The nuclear fuel was fabricated from uranium at the south end of the Hanford Site and was loaded into nuclear reactors located along the Columbia River. In the reactors, the uranium was bombarded with neutrons, transforming a small amount of the uranium into plutonium, the key ingredient in nuclear weapons. The irradiated fuel was dissolved in acid and run through a complex series of chemical processes. Plutonium was extracted, and leftover uranium was recovered to make new fuel.

The radioactive and chemical waste produced in these processing plants was placed in temporary storage in large underground tanks, where it remains today.

Today, there are 177 underground tanks at Hanford containing 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical wastes. Most of Hanford’s underground waste tanks – 149 of them – are single-shell tanks. The tanks are decades beyond their design life, and nearly half of the single-shell tanks have leaked a combined million gallons of hazardous, radioactive liquid into the soil. Some of this waste has reached groundwater, threatening the nearby Columbia River.

In 1989, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington State Department of Ecology signed a landmark agreement that, for the first time in its history, placed Hanford under federal and state environmental standards. Known as the Tri-Party Agreement, the document set a timetable to clean up Hanford and bring it into compliance with federal and state laws.

Hanford

Hanford

Hanford

Hanford

Hanford