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GAO warns about Hanford cleanup

September 11, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 37

A plan to clean up radioactive contamination in groundwater at the Hanford Reservation should be better managed by the Department of Energy, according to a report released on Sept. 5 by the Government Accountability Office. For decades, the now closed DOE facility in Washington state produced plutonium for nuclear weapons, and GAO considers it one of the most contaminated nuclear waste sites in North America. GAO is particularly concerned about contamination to the vadose zone, which is a region of soil that lies between groundwater and the leaking liquid storage tanks, burial sites, industrial facilities, and reactors at the site. DOE and its contractors, the report notes, are developing a plan to characterize and clean up the radioactive contamination in soil and groundwater as the liquid radioactive contamination travels from its sources to the nearby Columbia River. GAO is concerned, however, that the department and contractors lack adequate measures to determine the plan's effectiveness as they attempt to implement the cleanup strategy. The oversight agency notes that the inability to gauge success or failure when implementing cleanup plans historically has plagued the department at several sites. The report (GAO-06-1018) is available at


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