Hastings criticizes DOE for poor communication

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldApril 17, 2013 

The Department of Energy is not answering Rep. Doc Hastings' questions on the Hanford vitrification plant, he said in prepared remarks for a speech to the Energy Communities Alliance.

DOE must increase transparency and be prepared to answer basic questions about the $12.2 billion plant under construction if Congress is to continue investing taxpayer money in the plant, he said.

He also questioned why DOE was taking so long to release its reprogramming plans, which could affect Hanford jobs, and the slow process to transfer unneeded Hanford land for economic development. He delivered the speech Friday in Washington, D.C. His remarks were distributed this week.

For almost a year Hastings has asked for details in writing to outline the schedule, cost and work to be done associated with DOE's plan to test and resolve vitrification plant technical issues, Hastings said. Questions have been raised about the safety and efficiency of eventual plant operations, including whether there could be an uncontrolled nuclear reaction or a buildup of flammable gases.

Most recently DOE said that outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu's expert panels are working on these issues, Hastings said.

"This work, though, has taken place behind closed doors," he said.

Those with information on the work have been required to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Advocates of environmental cleanup of federal weapons sites such as Hanford, including those in Congress and in communities, need complete information to be successful in efforts to advance work, Hastings said.

He also waiting is on DOE to submit its reprogramming package to Congress, which will outline DOE plans to switch appropriated federal money among Hanford programs or among cleanup sites across the nation.

"Cleanup progress, as well as jobs, in all of our communities will be impacted by this reprogramming package," Hastings said. "It's simply not fair to EM (environmental management) sites, workers or communities for the administration to continue holding up the reprogramming package."

Workers at the vitrification plant have been warned to prepare for two weeks of furlough this summer as officials wait to see whether reprogramming could help resolve budget difficulties.

Hastings also discussed the need for a fair and timely process to ensure that land no longer needed by DOE is transferred out of federal control to be used for other purposes.

"In my view, local communities must not only have input, but must have real authority over decisions about future land use," he said. "The federal government should not be in the business of dictating to our communities how and when this land can best be used."

In 2011, Hastings said he was encouraged that DOE was prepared to begin taking steps required to transfer some unneeded Hanford land just north of Richland for industrial use based on a request from the Tri-City Development Council.

"Two years later, that transfer is still pending," Hastings said. "There is no reason why proposals to make good use of land no longer needed by the federal government should be held up in Washington, D.C., for years."

DOE offered no comment on the lack of communication with Hastings, his concerns about reprogramming or why the land transfer is taking so long.

However, it released a statement saying that DOE continues to support and work toward the transfer of a portion of the site's designated industrial land to TRIDEC for diversification of the local economy and will work with the community as future land use decisions are made.

Some of Hastings' remarks were more positive.

Hanford has made national news this winter and spring after six underground tanks were discovered to be leaking radioactive waste.

Perspective on the leaks is important, Hastings said. The amount of waste leaking from the tanks now is minute compared to the amount of waste that has spilled and leaked from the tanks over the past decades that plutonium was produced at Hanford.

News about the tanks also has overshadowed accomplishments at Hanford, he said.

There was no plan 15 years ago for cleaning up waste and contamination along the Columbia River. Now that work is almosty 90 percent done, he said.

At the Plutonium Finishing Plant, 77 percent of contaminated glove boxes have been removed and across Hanford, 4 billion gallons of contaminated groundwater has been treated, he said.

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

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service