DOE developing policies for reuse of Hanford land

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writerFebruary 22, 2011 

The Department of Energy has taken the initial step to develop policies for the next use of newly cleaned up land at Hanford.

It has created the Task Force on Asset Revitalization, which will recommend procedures to review project proposals for use of Hanford land and other DOE land released from environmental cleanup work.

Proposals already have been made to DOE for reusing some Hanford land on the 586-square mile nuclear reservation. Large portions are planned to be preserved as open area, but DOE plans also call for making 60 square miles available for industrial use.

Energy Northwest has proposed a lease of 300 acres near the Columbia Generating Station to be used for energy research or production by Energy Northwest or other companies or agencies. And Tri-City interests, including the Tri-City Development Council, are working to recruit an unnamed international energy company interested in developing a plant just north of the Richland city limits.

The new national task force is expected to make recommendations within the year to DOE under secretaries of energy, science and nuclear security on forming an Asset Revitalization Initiative.

DOE describes the initiative as a path forward for working with communities, nonprofit agencies, tribes, businesses and other interested parties to leverage unneeded resources at Hanford and other DOE sites for future use. That could include land, industrial structures, electric grid connections and a trained work force.

The DOE Office of Environmental Management has been promoting the idea of using some land for clean energy parks for two years, but it must spend its money on environmental cleanup. The task force raises the planning to a higher level within DOE and pulls in DOE departments in addition to Environmental Management.

Formation of a multi-office task force is a positive step, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford programs. An effort that crosses DOE departments had been requested by TRIDEC and the Energy Communities Alliance, he said.

As the task force prepares its recommendations, federal law still should allow timely efforts to move forward at Hanford, such as recruiting of the international energy company, he said. Federal law requires that land be made available for economic development by a community if there is a downturn in employment or a reduced federal mission, he said.

Hanford contractors have announced that they are preparing to lay off about 1,600 workers by October because of the end of Hanford economic stimulus spending.

"For decades, Department of Energy sites and their surrounding communities have played a vital role in supporting the nation's nuclear weapons defense mission," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement announcing the task force. "Thanks to investments through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the hard work of our employees, many sites that were critical to supporting national defense are poised to build a new future."

One of the goals of the task force is to efficiently coordinate DOE efforts and to make discussions easier between communities and DOE, said DOE spokeswoman Katinka Podmaniczky.

The task force plans to promote discussions among DOE, communities near DOE sites, nonprofit agencies, tribes, businesses and other interested parties to identify ways to reuse land, according to DOE. It will be looking at opportunities to reuse DOE assets for purposes that could include clean energy development, environmental sustainability projects or open space, according to DOE.

"Local communities must drive decisions about future land use," Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said in a speech to the Energy Communities Alliance last week.

He also advocated making land available for sale, not just lease, to attract private investment and jobs. And land not needed for cleanup "should not be locked away by the federal government into perpetuity," he said.

"These principles give the maximum flexibility to those communities that are affected," he said.

The task force will include representatives from the offices of Environmental Management, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Fossil Energy, Nuclear Energy, Science, Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, Legacy Management, the Chief Financial Officer, General Counsel, Office of Management, Public Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs. The National Nuclear Security Administration's Defense Programs office also will participate.

In 2009, DOE had 900 square miles in its environmental cleanup program, but by the end of 2011 that is expected to shrink to 540 square miles.

By 2015, just 90 square miles are expected to remain, said Ines Triay, DOE assistant secretary of the Office of Environmental Management at the Congressional Nuclear Cleanup Caucus briefing organized by Hastings last week.

By 2020, DOE would like to have major cleanup complete at all sites across the nation except Hanford, she said. Treatment of Hanford's radioactive waste held in underground tanks will take decades longer.

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