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Every WA Congressional Leader is Sending Biden the
Same Message About the Hanford Nuclear Site

by Annette Cary
Tri-City Herald, October 27, 2022

The GAO said that to date DOE has spent $13 billion on the vitrification plant,
where construction began two decades ago.

Hanford Nuclear Site 2005 and projection for year 3890.  Some contamination from Hanford slowly spreads to Columbia River The entire Washington congressional delegation, both Democrats and Republicans, have called on President Biden to do his part to get more money for the Hanford nuclear reservation site.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., led the effort to send a letter Thursday to the president. It points out the progress toward starting to treat and dispose of some of the least radioactive of 56 million gallons of waste stored in underground tanks, many of them prone to leaking.

Murray carries clout on the issue as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Newhouse, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, has advocated for strong Hanford budgets since taking office in 2015.

Now DOE needs more money to also work toward treating the most radioactive tank waste by proceeding with the engineering and construction of the High Level Waste Facility at the Hanford vitrification plant, the letter said.

"This is a top priority for our constituents, the state of Washington, the communities surrounding DOE's Hanford site and regional tribes," the Washington delegation said.

Lawmakers also said they were encouraged by collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and the Washington state Department of Ecology to reach agreement on a plan to address leaks from the oldest of the radioactive waste tanks at the Hanford site adjoining Richland in Eastern Washington.

Hanford has been operating under a continuing resolution after Congress has not approved a Department of Energy appropriations bill weeks after the Oct. 1 start of the current fiscal year.

Hanford continues to receive the $2.6 billion for operations and maintenance as approved for the past fiscal year, which was then a record high. With additional money set aside by Congress for security at Hanford, the total is higher at about $2.7 billion.

For this fiscal year the Biden administration in March had proposed a $172 million cut to Hanford spending for the fiscal year that started this month.

But in an unprecedented step the administration revised its budget request for the Hanford nuclear reservation to add $191 billion to its request.

Murray had repeatedly urged in public and private conversations with the administration that the federal government fully fund environmental cleanup of the 580-square-mile site in Eastern Washington.

Murray said in a statement Thursday that it is her job to make sure the administration lives up to its legal and moral obligation to clean up the Hanford site, including the next critical phase of environmental remediation.

"... I'll keep working across the aisle to deliver the resources we need at Hanford," she said.


Hanford has untreated radioactive and hazardous chemical waste, plus contaminated soil, groundwater and buildings, from the past production of nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The Biden administration is currently considering its budget request for fiscal 2024, which could be made public in the late winter or early spring.

It provides a starting point for Congress, with input from the Washington congressional delegation to approve funding levels for the year.

Hanford has begun preparing low-activity tank waste to be sent to the vitrification plant's Low Activity Waste Plant for treatment that could start as soon as the end of next year, the letter from the Washington congressional delegation pointed out.

In fiscal 2024 DOE will also need to ramp up design, engineering and construction of the vitrification plant's High Level Waste Facility, the letter said. Construction on the plant has been largely stopped since technical issues were raised in 2012 concerning how the plant handles the most radioactive components in the waste.

It is imperative that the Hanford budget request reflects not only the increased work at the vitrification plant, but also continued work on other environmental cleanup of Hanford in fiscal 2024 and subsequent years, the letter said.


The Washington congressional delegation also said it was encouraged by the recent agreement between Washington state and the federal government on responding to current and future tank leaks.

After a year of negotiation, they agreed in August that DOE would not immediately be required to begin emptying radioactive and hazardous chemical waste from two underground tanks known to be leaking waste into the ground at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Instead, DOE will take steps to limit the spread of the waste and consider ways to revise its tank waste retrieval schedule to possibly empty the waste from the two tanks sooner.

It also will develop Hanford's first comprehensive plan for responding to future leaks from Hanford's 149 single shell tanks, which are prone to leaking.

"This may be a beginning of a new collaborative era between Ecology and DOE, one that we hope will result in considering all viable options for safely, efficiently, and effectively treating Hanford's tank waste," the letter said.

The congressional delegation letter is the latest to urge an increase to money for environmental cleanup at Hanford.


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, in May warned the new director of the Office of Management and Budget at the Biden White House, Shalanda Young, that Hanford site budgets need to be larger to avoid disaster, meet legal obligations and prevent the nuclear reservation cleanup from continuing well into the next century.

"If the idea of investing in the cleanup today is unpalatable, consider this -- whether calamity comes in the form of a release of radiation, groundwater contamination reaching the Columbia River, harmful exposures to workers at the site, or something else, the bill will eventually come due," he said in a letter to Shalanda.

"When it does, those who pay the price will be the tribes, farmers, communities and all of us who rely on the Columbia River ... ," he wrote.

He proposed the Biden administration request $3.76 billion for Hanford spending in fiscal 2024.

In addition, disparate interest groups in the Northwest that have disagreed on how Hanford cleanup should be done came together in August to send a letter to Biden saying that a sustained spending boost of $1 billion a year is needed for Hanford.

The letter was signed by the governors of both Washington and Oregon; Seattle-based Hanford Challenge and Portland-based Columbia Riverkeeper and two Tri-Cities based groups, Hanford Communities, a coalition of local governments near Hanford and the Tri-Cities Development Council.

Washington state and Tri-Cities Hispanic organizations and key Hanford labor unions also signed the letter.

A separate letter was sent by the Yakama Nation, which has treaty rights at Hanford.

The letter from the Washington Congressional delegation did not provide an amount for the increase lawmakers are requesting.


While those who advocate for Hanford cleanup are calling for higher budgets, the Government Accountability Office has questioned whether DOE is doing enough to rein in cleanup spending at the site.

In July, it told Congress that Hanford cleanup costs continue to rise but opportunities exist to save tens of billions of dollars and at the same time reduce some of the risks posed by the waste.

Grouting some of the low activity radioactive waste rather than turning it into a stable glass for at the vitrification plant could save as much as $16.5 billion it said in an earlier report.

Although the state has only agreed to let vitrified low level waste be disposed of at a lined landfill at Hanford, grouted waste could be sent to a commercial site in Texas with a cell for disposal of low level radioactive waste from federal government sites.

The GAO said that to date DOE has spent $13 billion on the vitrification plant, where construction began two decades ago.

Approved estimates for completing the plant are long outdated. But the GAO pointed out that the Army Corps of Engineers estimated in 2018 that completing the vitrification plant could cost $33 billion to $42 billion.

Because the plant was never estimated to be large enough to treat all of the low activity waste being stored now, about $7 billion would be needed to build another facility at the vitrification plant to treat the rest of the low activity waste it treatments such as grouting are not used.

DOE and Ecology started closed door negotiations in spring of 2020 on a plan forward for the vitrification plant and tank waste.

Related Pages:
EPA, DOE Reach Settlement on Timetable to Remove Hanford Sludge Along Columbia River by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 5/29/15
EPA Begins Fining Hanford Over Deadline by Associated Press, The Columbian, 10/15/14
State Presents Hanford Cleanup Priority List by Annette Cary, The Bellingham Herald, 5/24/14
$3.6B Needed in 2016 for Hanford Cleanup by Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald, 5/14/14
State Too Quick to Threaten Consent Decree Provision Over Hanford Cleanup by Editorial Board, Tri-City Herald, 4/22/14

Annette Cary from Columbia Riverkeeper, Hanford Challenge, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility
Every WA Congressional Leader is Sending Biden the Same Message About the Hanford Nuclear Site
Tri-City Herald, October 27, 2022

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