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Nuclear Waste Program


What is the state of Hanford’s groundwater today?

Some of Hanford’s groundwater is contaminated, but currently the threat to humans is very low. While about 61 square miles of Hanford’s groundwater are contaminated above drinking water standards, no one uses that water.

We expect all groundwater to be restored to the highest potential use, which is drinking water. Groundwater cleanup is underway. But in the case of some contaminants, there is no technology available to clean the water. It may remain unusable for hundreds of years.

Does Hanford's groundwater affect the Columbia River?

Some radioactive and hazardous contaminants from the 100, 200, and 300 areas enter the Columbia River. Contamination resulted from huge amounts of waste water being discharged to cribs, ditches, and ponds during Hanford operations. However, the amounts of contamination currently reaching the Columbia are very small and are immediately diluted once the groundwater enters the river.

What about in the future?

The risk from Hanford’s groundwater will increase if we do not remove all the contamination sources. In addition to contamination from cribs, ditches, and ponds, the 56 million gallons of highly toxic and radioactive waste in 177 aging underground tanks several miles from the river pose the greatest risk. The tanks will not hold their contents forever, and 67 of them are known or presumed to have leaked at least one million gallons of waste.

Groundwater Modeling

Computer models are used to predict the movement of contaminants in groundwater beneath the Hanford Site. These predictions are important for planning waste management and cleanup activities. This model is being improved to represent groundwater flow more realistically and to quantify the uncertainty in model predictions. Other groundwater models are used for problems at a local scale, less than about 6 miles, such as the design and evaluation of pump-and-treat systems for groundwater. This model has allowed hydrogeologists (geologists who specialize in water) to "see" the Hanford Groundwater model moving under Hanford over time.

All of the pumpable liquids have been removed from the 149 single-shell tanks. But a slurry of crystalized salt cake and foam remains. Because the leaked tank waste is more concentrated than the other forms of liquid waste, it has remained in the soil of the 200 Area. However, contamination from tank waste will eventually reach the Columbia, which is why completion of the Waste Treatment Plant is crucial to protecting the river.

Learn More About Hanford Groundwater Cleanup

Cleaning Hanford's Groundwater | Hanford Frequently Asked Questions | Groundwater Contamination at Hanford | Groundwater Operable Unit Information | Major Contaminants | Primer and Sources of Contamination | Remediation | Apatite | Sitewide Groundwater and Vadose Zone Project Implementation Plan

Other Links

Radiation and Toxicity Glossary

U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford Soil & Groundwater Remediation Project

Oregon Department of Energy's Hanford Groundwater Fact Sheet