Hanford Site History

The demand for nuclear weapons by the Manhattan Project initiated a nationwide search for strategic areas suitable to produce and store nuclear materials. Working with the DuPont Company, in September 1942, the US government chose Hanford, Washington, a relatively secluded area along the Columbia River, as the location for one of the largest nuclear facilities in the country.

Interesting Facts

  • Originally the land encompassing the site was home to many native American tribes and early Western settlers
  • Built in 1943 and occupying approximately 1,800 sq ft, the Hanford B Reactor was the first commercial size reactor used for plutonium production in the world
  • The first functional atomic bomb and the subsequent Fat Man bomb, dropped on Japan, utilized plutonium refined at the Hanford Site
  • In 1947, Hanford expanded its nuclear reactors and plutonium refinement efforts supplying materials for nearly all 60,000 atomic weapons developed during the cold war era

Contamination

During the 1960s the scope of the Hanford site was greatly reduced. All the old reactors were decommissioned, leaving only the N Reactor to continue refining plutonium and generate electricity. It was also during the 60s that reports began to surface of massive contamination and environmental concerns at the Hanford site.

The site recycled an enormous amount of water from the Columbia River to cool the reactors. Some of the 177 storage tanks filled with nuclear waste were said to have begun leaking into the groundwater. The plutonium refinement process had also released nuclear isotopes into the air affecting downwind states across the region.

In 1987, N reactor was finally shut down and the site focus shifted towards research, nuclear power generation and a daunting cleanup effort. Hanford is the world’s largest environmental cleanup project, currently employing 11,000 workers at a cost of over $2 billion per year.

The project is overseen by the Department of Energy and continues to be a hot issue for communities in the region as well as the country at large. As of 2013, the estimated cost to clean up the Hanford site stands at $115 billion.

Hanford Site EEOICPA Benefits

Current and former workers of the Hanford site or their survivors are eligible for up to $450,000 in compensation and health benefits under Part B and Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Program Act (EEOICPA).

The Department of Labor has also granted Special Exposure Cohort status to those who worked at the site prior to 1973. For more information on benefits and how to apply contact your local DOL Resource Center.

Questions about benefits? Call us at (800)718-5658

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