RICHLAND — Largely thanks to Hanford, the Department of Energy has met a key Obama administration goal five months early to reduce contaminated land by 45 percent.
At Hanford, 269 square miles of the nuclear reservation's 586 square miles is considered clean now. That's 46 percent of the land that has been cleaned up.
Nationwide, 931 square miles of contaminated land from Cold War activities has been reduced by 415 square miles -- more than half of that land at Hanford. Much of the work was paid for by federal economic stimulus money.
The 269 square miles cleaned up at Hanford are among the most lightly used at the nuclear reservation. About 200 square miles is in the security perimeter of Hanford, now part of the Hanford Reach National Monument.
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But the land declared clean also includes about 60 square miles in the part of Hanford set aside for production, but now known to have had major industrial use. Hanford was used during World War II and the Cold War to produce plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.
After an area is believed to be clean, it's surveyed, including from the air and by walking the entire property, said Todd Nelson, spokesman for Washington Closure Hanford.
The contractor cleaned up the 60 square miles, about half of which is south of the K and B reactors and extending west to Highway 240. The other half is a triangle extending south from central Hanford almost to the Yakima River and also along Highway 240 to the west. Its eastern border is Route 10 to the Wye Barricade.
The contractor studied thousands of historical documents, photographs and construction drawings to determine how land might have been used in decades past.
It found no radiological contamination, but removed 9.4 tons of debris or dirt with possible chemical contamination, such as battery acid. Miscellaneous debris, such as a tank, and 3.6 miles of railroad track and ties also were removed. The area also included two anti-aircraft defense sites.
Work is continuing to clean up the national monument, but the approximately 200 square miles cleaned up by CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. had hundreds of debris sites ranging from makeshift pens for elk research to wrecked cars. The contractor also has taken down 24 buildings, some from a former Army camp, and additional communication towers.
Hanford officials have a goal of reducing the contaminated footprint of Hanford to 75 square miles at its center by 2015.
Nationwide, DOE is on track to reduce its overall cleanup footprint by about 90 percent by then. That will not only lower costs of surveillance and maintenance, but make some land available for community use, including for clean energy projects.
"The Recovery Act has allowed us to invest in a clean energy future by creating jobs, training workers and making progress on important legacy cleanup work across the country," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, in a statement.