DOE nominee says Hanford a priority

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 17, 2013 

Reducing the area of Hanford needing environmental cleanup and working toward a long-term plan to dispose of Hanford waste would be priorities if Beth Robinson is confirmed as the Department of Energy undersecretary for management and performance, she said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., questioned Robinson about Hanford and disposing of radioactive defense waste at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee on Tuesday.

If confirmed, Robinson would be responsible for Hanford nuclear reservation environmental cleanup in a new undersecretary position created by a DOE reorganization announced by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in July.

Cantwell cautioned Robinson that every official appointed to oversee Hanford work looks at the amount of money being spent on cleanup at Hanford -- about $2 billion annually -- and suggests a shortcut.

"It ends up not being a shortcut and we end up spending more money," Cantwell said.

Robinson described the issues at Hanford as "very complex and very important," noting that she grew up in Seattle. She studied at the University of Washington, Reed College in Portland and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.

"Certainly if I'm confirmed I'm deeply committed to working out the issues at Hanford, both short and long term," she said. "And reducing the footprint and working with Secretary Moniz on the long-term disposition of the waste will be a top priority."

Hanford has 2,347 tons of irradiated fuel, never processed to remove weapons plutonium, that have been planned to be sent to a national repository. About 9,700 canisters of glassified waste to be processed at the Hanford vitrification plant also have been planned to be sent to a national repository.

With the Obama administration's move to shut down work on a national repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future has proposed that a repository be built in a community that volunteers by 2048. In the meantime, a temporary facility could be available in 2025 to show progress in accepting used commercial fuel at a central site.

If a separate decision were made on defense waste, an answer on what to do with Hanford waste might be made much sooner, Cantwell said. Moniz was on the Blue Ribbon Panel, which suggested the wastes be separated, she said.

Robinson agreed that Moniz is well positioned to move the issue forward and said that she would support his work.

Robinson has been chief financial officer at NASA since 2009, managing a budget of a major federal agency that, like DOE, is on the forefront of scientific research and technological development, said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the committee, in his introduction of her.

Before joining the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, she was the assistant director for budget at the Office of Management and Budget.

"Dr. Robinson will bring a quarter-century of experience with federal budget and science and technology issues to the job," Wyden said in prepared remarks.

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

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