In order to make plutonium, the most important part of an atomic bomb, the first step is to put a lot of long tubes of uranium metal called “fuel rods” inside nuclear reactors. After being inside the reactor for a while, the fuel rods will produce a small amount of plutonium which has to be removed so that it can be put inside bombs.
Glenn Seaborg was a scientist who not only helped to discover the material which is now called plutonium, but he was the person who figured out how to remove the plutonium from the fuel rods after they left the nuclear reactor. Seaborg realized that you could put these fuel rods through a series of chemical “baths”, and eventually, you would be able to remove the plutonium from the fuel rod.
Unfortunately, the use of the chemicals to dissolve the fuel rod and get at the plutonium also produced a large volume of chemical waste at Hanford. These wastes are being cleaned up at Hanford as part of the environmental cleanup program taking place at the Site today.
Seaborg actually helped to discover ten chemical elements that scientists work with today. One of them is even named “Seaborgium” in his honor. Another one, called “Americium” is used today in many smoke detectors!