Hanford Site

The Hanford Site was the home of the first full-scale plutonium reactor in the world, which operated from 1943 until 1991. The nuclear production complex is located in the United States near Richland, Washington, 200 miles away from Seattle. This is where the plutonium for the first nuclear weapon was manufactured and later used in the bomb detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. For over 40 years the complex created and released toxic waste into the environment. The production facility produced millions of gallons of radioactive waste that was stored underground, where many of the containers continue to leak. There are still tons of plutonium and over 2,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods being stored at the 586-square mile site, accounting for the most dangerous nuclear dump in the United States. The Hanford site has seen intensive environmental cleanup over the past few decades, but still continues to pollute vast areas of ground water, and to cost billions of dollars a year in cleanup efforts.

Contributed by James Trudell
Course: Modern Global Environmental History
Instructor: Dr. Wilko Graf von Hardenberg
University of Wisconsin–Madison, US

Further Readings: 
  • Gephart, Roy E. Hanford: A Conversation about Nuclear Waste and Cleanup. Columbus, OH: Battelle Press, 2003.
  • Marceau, T. E., et al., eds. Hanford Site Historic District: History of the Plutonium Production Facilities, 1943–1990. Columbus, OH: Battelle Press, 2003.