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Japanese officials visit Hanford to learn nuclear cleanup strategies

Mark Triplett

The people overseeing the cleanup of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster are learning some valuable lessons from the long-running cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. A Japanese government delegation recently toured some of the southeast Washington site this week.

In Japan, workers in gloves and masks are grinding down sidewalks and roads, wiping down rooftops and bagging contaminated soil. Now, the problem is where to put all that radioactive waste from Fukushima.

Enter: Mark Triplett, a senior advisor at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland. On a consulting trip to Japan, he saw bags of waste piling up in school yards, near homes, and in sports stadiums. Then back home, Tripplet hosted a 10-person Japanese delegation for a tour of Hanford.

Triplett said the Japanese seemed to be most impressed by a vast plastic-lined disposal dump in the center of the Hanford site.

“I think that was a real eye-opener for them. It gave them a real visual for the amount of material they are going to have to deal with. And having a physical facility of that size is I don’t think something they’d ever envisioned,” he said.

The pit—known as the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, or ERDF—is one of the newer places designed to contain contaminated soil and rubble scraped up near the Columbia River.

Triplett said the Japanese may need to build a facility two to four times larger to handle all their contaminated trees, topsoil and debris. 

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.