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Government awards $45B to company treating over 50M gallons of leaking radioactive waste: 'One of our nation's most important environmental challenges'

56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous waste were stored underground in tanks, raising fears of future contamination.

56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous waste were stored underground in tanks, raising fears of future contamination.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

A 10-year contract has been re-awarded to a Virginia company tasked with cleaning up millions of gallons of radioactive and chemical waste.

The Tri-City Herald reported Hanford Tank Waste Operations and Closure, or H2C, has been granted $45 billion by the U.S. Department of Energy to perform the work at the Hanford Site

The 580-square-mile site, located in the state of Washington, produced almost two-thirds of the plutonium for the country's nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War.

This resulted in 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous waste being stored underground in tanks, raising fears of future contamination. 

As detailed on Hanford's official website, millions of gallons of the hazardous liquids had already seeped into the soil during the nuclear program, resulting in groundwater treatment systems eventually being installed to mitigate the issue. 

In August 2022, the DOE and Washington State Department of Ecology also signed an Agreed Order with their eyes on responding to existing leaks and preventing further contamination. 

H2C was first awarded the Hanford Integrated Tank Disposition Contract in April 2023, but Hanford Tank Disposition Alliance (HTDA) appealed the decision in hopes of securing the funds before losing its bid. H2C is now tasked with single-shell tank retrieval and closure and the design, construction, and operation of waste facilities, according to the DOE

Environmental health and safety are paramount to those aims, and security and emergency services are also part of the H2C's responsibilities. Water contamination, whether through plastic pollution or hazardous waste, is known to have a wide range of harmful impacts on local ecosystems and human health

The Hanford site partially feeds into the Columbia River, whose basin goes through seven U.S. states, providing irrigation for crops, drinking water for multiple communities, and serving as home to millions of salmon — a vital food source that is also being negatively impacted by changing global temperatures driven by human-made pollution

According to Washington's Department of Ecology, significant progress has been made in cleaning up the Hanford Site, but roughly "60 square miles of groundwater remains contaminated above federal standards." 

As part of its contract, H2C will turn much of the remaining hazardous waste into glass for "permanent disposal," as reported by the Tri-City Herald for The Daily News. The Herald added that a 120-day transition period is in place as H2C takes over from Washington River Protection Solutions, which had been leading cleanup efforts on short-term contracts since 2008.

"Amentum and our partners have a tremendous track record of treating waste and managing nuclear operations around the DOE complex," Amentum National Security Group president Mark Whitney told the outlet. "We will bring the most advanced technologies and experienced team to help solve one of our nation's most important environmental challenges."

Some might be eager for H2C to spearhead the cleanup, but it appears things are tied up in court for the time being. At the end of March, HTDA filed a second appeal with the aim of securing the 10-year contract, per Washington Technology.

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