Budget boost possible for some Hanford work in 2014

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldApril 17, 2013 

Work at Hanford's tank farms and Plutonium Finishing Plant would ramp up under the Obama administration's proposed budget for fiscal 2014.

The overall proposed budget was released April 10, but Wednesday, the administration released details of how money it is requesting would be spent on individual Hanford nuclear reservation projects.

Department of Energy officials refused to discuss the budget proposal, despite information in it that apparently contradicts other recent information from DOE.

The overall budget proposal is about $2.2 billion, about the same as the site's budget in 2012. The budget for the current fiscal year is based on a continuing resolution that continues fiscal 2012 budget amounts, but with a reduction for sequestration.

To increase spending at the tank farms and Plutonium Finishing Plant, the proposed budget for other work was reduced, including money for the vitrification plant and for cleaning up contaminated groundwater.

At the tank farms, spending would be increased from $442 million in fiscal 2012 to $520 million for fiscal 2014.

The money would be used to complete retrieval of radioactive waste from the 16 underground tanks in the group called C Tank Farm. The tanks are required to be emptied to regulatory standards in fiscal 2014 to meet a court-enforced consent decree.

Money also would be used to start work to retrieve waste from tanks that DOE wants to classify as transuranic waste to allow it to be sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a national repository in New Mexico, rather than sending it to the vitrification plant as high-level radioactive waste once the plant begins operating.

DOE has six tanks newly discovered to be leaking waste into the ground and believes five of them could be classified as transuranic waste -- a plan that would require New Mexico to modify the repository permit before the waste could be shipped.

The proposed budget also would include completion of a report on possible supplemental technologies to treat tank waste that the vitrification plant, as designed, will not be able to vitrify in a reasonable time.

DOE has said that supplemental technologies could save money, but regulators are skeptical that technologies adequately would protect the environment after treated low-activity waste is disposed of at Hanford.

The increase also would support ventilation system upgrades to help prevent the possibility of an explosion of flammable gases and would help prepare for the delivery of waste to the vitrification plant once it begins operating.

At the Plutonium Finishing Plant, the proposed budget would increase from $99 million in fiscal 2012 to almost $143 million in fiscal 2014. The money would be used to continue work to remove glove boxes and other highly contaminated equipment and prepare the plant for demolition.

The budget for protecting and cleaning groundwater is proposed to drop from about $191 million in fiscal 2012 to about $142 million in fiscal 2014.

The decrease reflects the completion of construction and startup of Hanford's largest and most complex groundwater treatment system, the 200 West Groundwater Treatment Facility.

At the vitrification plant, the budget would decrease from $740 million to $690 million, the amount long planned for annual spending at the plant during construction and commissioning.

No construction would be done on the plant's Pretreatment Facility in fiscal 2014 under the proposed budget as work continues to resolve technical issues. However, construction would continue on other major facilities at the plant.

In other work, the proposed budget says that $327 million for work to clean up the area along the Columbia River would cover completion of cleanup of the 618-10 burial ground, one of Hanford's most hazardous burial grounds. However, last week DOE said the work would not be completed in fiscal 2014.

The proposed budget also includes almost $99 million for work at the K Basins. That would include beginning retrieval of bulk radioactive sludge from underwater containers in the K West Basin, according to the proposed budget. However, because of sequestration, work to build an annex needed for that transfer has been paused this year.

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

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