or centuries, the mighty Columbia River—the largest
waterway by volume in the Paci;c Northwest—served as a
major thoroughfare and a prime ;shing spot. But the river’s waters were put to another use in the 1940s: cooling
nuclear reactors. In a remote part of Washington, USA,
the Hanford Nuclear Reservation quietly set up shop on a
;e vast site would be ground zero for nuclear weapons development,
producing plutonium as part of the Manhattan Project. ;e scientists
behind the top-secret research initiative built the ;rst atomic bomb that
ultimately helped to end World War II. But in their quest to win a nuclear
arms race, the scientists paid little attention to the environmental consequences of their work. By the time the U.S. Department of Energy closed
Hanford in 1987, it had the dubious distinction of being the country’s
most contaminated nuclear site.
With widespread groundwater contamination threatening drinking
water and wildlife, the U.S. Department of Energy in 2005 hired Washington Closure Hanford (WCH)—a joint venture of AECOM, Bechtel and
CH2M—to clean up 220 square miles (570 square kilometers) of the site.
;e nine-year, US$2 billion River Corridor Base Scope contract involved removing more than 140,000 tons of chrome-contaminated soil from the ground, disarming two nuclear reactors and remediating 9 million tons of toxic waste—all buried
in a massive land;ll at the Hanford site. ;e project was part of a 586-square-mile
( 1,518-square-kilometer) cleanup of the entire Hanford site that began in 1989.
For WCH, the goal on the corridor project was to restore the portion of the
Columbia around the Hanford site to its natural glory—healing an ecosystem
and returning the land to public use.
“;e community wanted the land back to where they could access it,” says Gordon Dover, director of project innovation at WCH, Richland, Washington, USA.
“;e Columbia is a major salmon ;shery, and the Native Americans lived o; that
salmon for hundreds of years. ;e chromium coming from the site was impacting
the small salmon smelt, so it was very critical to get the contamination o; the river.”
;e team knew it had to catalog and mitigate every potential risk to execute
such a multifaceted megaproject. With explosive and radioactive materials lurking beneath the surface—and regulators, local residents and other stakeholders
keeping close watch—there was no room for error.
land back to
could access it.”
—Gordon Dover, Washington