Security & Privacy

Overview of the Hanford Site
and its Mission

The Hanford Site lies within the semiarid Pasco Basin of the Columbia Plateau in southeastern Washington State. The site occupies an area of ~1,517 square kilometers (~586 square miles) located north of the city of Richland and the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers.

This large area has restricted public access and provides a buffer for the smaller areas on the site that historically were used for production of nuclear materials, waste storage, and waste disposal. The Columbia River flows eastward through the northern part of the Hanford Site and then turns south, forming part of the eastern site boundary.

300 Area
The 300 Area is located just north of the city of Richland. This area covers 1.5 square kilometers (~0.6 square mile).

The 78,900-hectare (195,000-acre) Hanford Reach National Monument was established by a Presidential Proclamation in June 2000 to protect the nation's only non-impounded stretch of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam and the largest remnant of the shrub-steppe ecosystem once blanketing the Columbia River Basin. In 2001, DOE and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were joint stewards of the monument with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administering three major management units of the monument totaling ~66,775 hectares (~165,000 acres).

These included the:

This map shows management units on the Hanford Reach National Monument
This map shows management units on the Hanford Reach National Monument.

The portion of the National Monument administered only by DOE included the:

Approximately 162 hectares (~400 acres) along the north side of the Columbia River, west of the Vernita Bridge, and south of State Highway 243 is managed by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

These lands have served as a safety and security buffer zone for site operations since 1943, resulting in an ecosystem that has been relatively untouched for nearly 60 years.

Coyotes on the Wahluke Unit of the Hanford Reach
Coyotes are often seen on the Wahluke Unit of the Hanford Reach National Monument. This unit is open to the public.

Site Description

The Hanford Site was acquired by the federal government in 1943, and until the 1980s, was dedicated primarily to the production of plutonium for national defense and the management of resulting waste.

The site is a relatively large, undisturbed area of shrub-steppe that contains a rich, natural diversity of plant and animal species adapted to the region's semiarid environment.

Terrestrial vegetation on the site consists of 10 major plant communities:

Approximately 725 species of vascular plants have been identified on the site, and The Nature Conservancy of Washington has further delineated 30 distinct plant community types from within the 10 major communities.

There are two types of natural aquatic habitats on the Hanford Site. One is the Columbia River and associated wetlands, and the second is upland aquatic sites. The upland sites include small spring streams and seeps located mainly on the Fitzner/Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology Reserve on Rattlesnake Mountain and West Lake, a small, natural pond near the 200 Areas.

Red-tailed hawk.
The red-tailed hawk is one of the most common hawks found on the Hanford Site.

More than 1,000 species of insects, 17 species of reptiles and amphibians, 44 species of fish, 258 species of birds, and 42 species of mammals have been found on the Hanford Site. Deer and elk are the major large mammals. A herd of Rocky Mountain elk has inhabited the site since 1972. Coyotes also are plentiful on the site. The Great Basin pocket mouse is the most abundant mammal.

Waterfowl are numerous on the Columbia River, and the bald eagle is a regular winter visitor. Salmon and steelhead are the fish species of most interest to sport fishermen and are commonly consumed by local Native American tribes. Fall chinook salmon spawn in the Hanford Reach, the most important natural spawning area in the mainstem Columbia.

Although no Hanford Site plant species have been identified from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, biodiversity inventory work conducted in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy of Washington identified 127 populations of 30 different rare plant taxa.

Several species of mammals, birds, mollusks, reptiles, and invertebrates occurring on the site are candidates for formal listing under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the bald eagle as threatened. The bald eagle is a common winter resident and has initiated nesting on the site but has never successfully produced offspring.

Hanford Site and surrounding area
This map shows the Hanford Site and surrounding area.
Underground waste storage tank
Underground waste storage tanks were built in groups (called tank farms) in the 200-East and 200-West Areas on the Hanford Site. The tank farms house 177 tanks (149 single-shell tanks and 28 double-shell tanks) that contain millions of liters of high-level liquid waste.
Exhaust stacks
Nine nuclear reactors were constructed on the Hanford Site in the 100 Areas during the World War II Manhattan Project and the Cold War. This photo shows two 200-foot exhaust stacks being demolished at the 100-D/DR Area as part of site decontamination and decommissioning activities.

Operational Areas

The major DOE operational, administrative, and research areas on and around the Hanford Site include the following.

Current Site Mission

For more than 40 years, Hanford Site facilities were dedicated primarily to the production of plutonium for national defense and management of the resulting waste. Hanford was the first plutonium production site in the world. In recent years, efforts at the site have focused on developing new waste treatment and disposal technologies and characterizing and cleaning up contamination left from historical operations.

Currently, the Hanford Site's primary mission includes cleaning up and shrinking the size of the site from ~1,517 square kilometers (~586 square miles) to ~194 square kilometers (~75 square miles) by the target date of 2012. Accelerating Cleanup and Shrinking the Site states that the cleanup mission includes three strategies:

The goal of these strategies is to complete major portions of the site cleanup by 2012 and to do so in a manner that protects the environment and uses taxpayers' dollars wisely and efficiently.

Hanford at a Glance
Location The U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford Site is located in southeastern Washington State near the city of Richland.
Dominant Feature Rattlesnake Mountain on the Fitzner/Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology (ALE) Reserve rises 1,074 meters (3,525 feet) above sea level.
Size The site covers approximately 1,517 kilometers (586 square miles).
Employees DOE and its contractors employed ~10,000 workers in fiscal year 2001.
Mission Hanford's mission is to safely clean up and manage the site's legacy wastes and shrink the site.
Budget The annual budget is approximately $1.6 billion.
Site Management DOE Richland Operations Office and DOE Office of River Protection.
Prime Contractors Fluor Hanford, Inc. (nuclear legacy cleanup), Battelle Memorial Institute operates Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (research and development), Bechtel Hanford, Inc. (environmental restoration), Hanford Environmental Health Foundation (occupational and environmental health services), CH2M HILL Hanford Group, Inc. (storing, retrieving and characterizing waste stored in 177 underground tanks), MACTEC-ERS (tank farm and waste site vadose zone characterization), and Bechtel National, Inc. (design, build, and commission a waste treatment plant to vitrify Hanford's tank waste).

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Document Number: PNNL-13910-SUM
Document Date: September 2002
Posted: October 2002

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