Obama calls for $2.2B Hanford budget for 2014

April 10, 2013 

— The Obama administration proposed a budget of $2.2 billion for fiscal 2014 for the Hanford nuclear reservation.

That about matches the site’s budget in 2012, after work by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to keep Hanford environmental cleanup funded in a tough federal budget climate. The site is contaminated by the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

The proposed budget would shift money from other Hanford work to the site’s tank farms, where a consent decree requires the Department of Energy to have all 16 single-shell tanks in the C Tank Farm emptied by the end of 2014.

There also is new urgency to empty Hanford tanks after six of Hanford’s 149 single-shell tanks were recently discovered to be leaking.

The proposed budget positions DOE to meet legal environmental deadlines in 2014 across the complex, said Dave Huizenga, senior adviser for the DOE Office of Environmental Management on Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.

“This is better than we had hoped,” said Gary Petersen, vice president of Hanford programs for the Tri-City Development Council.

But the community should be concerned about what could happen to the Hanford budget if sequestration, or forced federal budget cuts, continues in 2014, he said. That could mean a 7.5 percent reduction in the Hanford budget for a second year.

Murray continues to have concerns about Hanford.

“Cleaning up nuclear waste at the Hanford site is one of our nation’s most important environmental priorities, and I worked closely with the Obama administration to ensure adequate federal funding,” she said in a statement.

But she added, “While funding is crucial, the Department of Energy must create a comprehensive plan that moves Hanford cleanup forward, including addressing tank waste and the Waste Treatment Plant.”

The administration’s proposed budget was released two months later than usual this year and comes after the Senate and House passed fiscal 2014 budgets that are far apart. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., criticized the proposed administration budget for its lack of details and said Congress will need to know more as it works through the appropriations process for 2014.

Democrats said specifics of how money would be spent, including for individual Hanford projects, should follow within a week.

“This lack of information, coupled with the continued uncertainty surrounding the Department of Energy’s reprogramming package make it impossible to determine the true impacts of the request on the Richland Operations Office or the Office of River Protection,” Hastings said in a statement.

DOE is expected to notify Congress soon that it wants to reprogram, or shift, money this year among projects across the complex.

The Richland Operations Office would see its budget cut under the administration’s 2014 budget proposal.

The office is responsible for all Hanford work, except the tank farms holding 56 million gallons of radioactive waste and the Waste Treatment Plant, or vitrification plant, being built to treat the waste for disposal.

The administration request is about $924 million, a $28 million drop from fiscal 2012. The current year’s spending is based on a recently extended continuing resolution, minus sequestration, and those numbers were not included in the budget overview.

The $924 million would include money to start work on the 324 Building, which sits over a highly radioactive spill of cesium and strontium just north of Richland and near the Columbia River, Huizenga said. It also would cover continued work to prepare the Plutonium Finishing Plant for demolition and to continue work near the Columbia River, where buildings are being demolished and waste sites dug up.

Progress could be made on the 618-10 burial ground, although it would not be cleaned up until 2015. In addition, work would continue to pump and treat contaminated groundwater at Hanford.

The $924 million does not include about $70 million for safeguards and security, which is included elsewhere in the proposed budget for DOE, and included in the $2.2 billion total for Hanford.

The proposed budget for the tank farms would increase to about $521 million from about $442 million in fiscal 2012.

The budget for the vitrification plant would drop from about $740 million in fiscal 2012 to $690 million.

The long-term plan has been to keep vitrification plant spending at $690 million a year and that was the amount proposed for the current year. However, no 2013 budget was passed and the vitrification plant budget continued to reflect the $740 million set for 2012 this year.

Construction has stopped at the plant’s Pretreatment Facility and part of its High Level Waste Facility until technical issues can be resolved.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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