OK, for the record, the only thing at Hanford these days that is actually worth worrying about is all of the liquid waste from the plutonium and uranium extraction process. There is something like 56 million gallons of it, stored in huge underground tanks.
The stuff is extremely corrosive and extremely radioactive. Nobody knows quite what to do with it, but they keep building (then abandoning) plants to treat it. Because activists and senators demand that they do something
. We spend something like two billion dollars a year
for those guys to run around in circles and accomplish nothing.
After about 20 years or so, all of those old single-walled tanks rusted through and started leaking, so some of the waste is now in the sand outside the tanks. There is really no danger of the tank waste getting off the site - this is many miles from the river or any town. But the longer they wait, the bigger and deeper the volume of contaminated sand is getting.
The plan, back in the 60's was to build new double-walled tanks.
While pumping the stuff from the single-wall to the double-wall tanks, they ran it through evaporators to get rid of water and reduce the volume, so the stuff in the double-walled tanks was sort of a sludge. A highly concentrated, highly radioactive, highly corrosive sludge. That promptly started boiling
from the heat of decay. And emitting hydrogen gas from - well, from all new kinds of chemistry, it was later discovered. Nobody knew exactly what was in it. For years, they just had the army guards kick a garden hose in there to prevent it from evaporating to the point of possible criticality. Nobody even knew what it looked like in there because it is so radioactive that the lenses of cameras turn opaque in seconds.
If "snapple" is "the Best Stuff on Earth," or even if it isn't, the sludge at Hanford is The Worst Stuff on Earth.
Eventually, it was decided to start stirring the stuff, to prevent it from "burping" explosive concentrations of hydrogen gas. I guess that worked... but most of us found convenient vacation days on the other side of the mountains the week that started.
Obviously, terrorists could have a lot of fun with this stuff, but really there's no way they could get any. If they somehow dipped a bucket in there and pulled it up... it would kill them before they could carry it away. In fact, last time I was out there, there was only a simple fence around the tank farms. This is what the top of a tank looks like now:
I used to drive right past there with no security checks or anything. I guess that if you actually stopped there, a patrol would come by to check you out.
The current plan is to pump out the sludge, mix it with cement to form solid ingots, melt those into a glass, then encase them in steel. And then... do something
Eventually. Meanwhile, well, you can have a lot of fun with two billion dollars a year that never seems to dry up.