A new book investigates the toxic legacy of Hanford, the Washington state facility that produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.
“Bechtel is a privately owned corporation and we’re spending billions of dollars paying this company to not get the job done. It’s a big mess.”
The most polluted place in the United States — perhaps the world — is one most people don’t even know. Hanford Nuclear Site sits in the flat lands of eastern Washington. The facility — one of three sites that made up the government’s covert Manhattan Project — produced plutonium for Fat Man, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II. And it continued producing plutonium for weapons for decades after the war, helping to fuel the Cold War nuclear arms race.
Today Hanford — home to 56 million gallons of nuclear waste, leaking storage tanks, and contaminated soil — is an environmental disaster and a catastrophe-in-waiting.
It’s “the costliest environmental remediation project the world has ever seen and, arguably, the most contaminated place on the entire planet,” writes journalist Joshua Frank in the new book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America.
It’s also shrouded in secrecy.
Frank has worked to change that, beginning with a series of blockbuster investigations published in Seattle Weekly a decade ago. Atomic Days offers an even fuller picture of the ecological threats posed by Hanford and its failed remediation.
The Revelator spoke with him about the environmental consequences, the botched cleanup operation, and what comes next.
Why is the most polluted place in the country so little known?