Our cameras toured cleanup of the Hanford site and got up close - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Our cameras toured cleanup of the Hanford site and got up close to some active radiation

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RICHLAND, WA. -- There's been a lot of talk lately about the Hanford tank farms and possible worker exposure to vapors. But Monday, we got to take a look at some of the other work going on at the site.

First stop on our Hanford tour is the waste management and storage facility. Here scientists are testing equipment that will be used to remove radioactive sludge from the 100-K reactor area that sits just 400-yards away from the Columbia River.

"It's role in the project is to provide assurance to our customer that the system that has been designed on paper, once it's turned into actual hardware will function as designed and complete the mission of removing sludge from the fuel storage basin area out in 100 area," Neal Sullivan of CH2M Hill said. 

Workers demonstrated how they will use hoses to suck the up 27 cubic yards of radioactive waste stored under 17-feet of water. These are some examples of those elements, left behind in both liquid and solid forms. They provide many unique challenges.

"You got light fluffy stuff here that's light the dust bunnies at your house," Sullivan said. "And then you have this uranium metal that's heavy. It's hard to design one system that handles both."

Next stop, outside to see what is considered the most hazardous building on the Hanford site, the Plutonium Finishing Plant. This is where 2/3rds of the nation's plutonium was housed for 62 years. It's probably the last we'll see of the plant. In the coming months, its scheduled to be completely demolished, but high levels of contamination means crews wont be using any explosives.

"CH2M's goal is to perform the work safely and efficiently," Destry Henderson said. "If we can't do it safely, we wont do it. A facility that's as old as this, as contaminated as this, there's a lot of hazards inside that we have to mitigate."

After demolition, testing will be done to see if any of the radiation seeped down into the groundwater underneath the building. 

Final stop, the waste encapsulation and storage facility, which holds radioactive material stored underwater in 7 hot cells. With the lights off you can see a bluish glow of radiation.

"I'm going to say for lack of a better way to describe it, it looks like a blue night light underwater," one scientist said. "It's decaying radiation of highly radioactive materials and as that decays, it generates like a blue light."

To show just how close we were to that radiation, our hands and feet had to be checked for contamination before we left. Everyone passed the tests.