2014 Hanford spending plan revealed

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 14, 2014 

Work to prepare for cleaning up one of Hanford's most notorious burial grounds, 618-10, will be accelerated with money in the fiscal 2014 Hanford budget.

Other plans call for speeding up work to remove some radioactively contaminated soil just north of Richland and continuing the momentum to complete demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant by a legal deadline of fall 2016, according to Matt McCormick, manager of the Department of Energy Richland Operations Office.

DOE discussed the fiscal 2014 budget for the first time this week since Congress worked out a budget deal Jan. 13 and the president signed it four days later. The fiscal year began Oct. 1.

The administration's budget request, which was released in April, proposed a budget that about matched the budget for fiscal 2012 before mandatory budget cuts, or sequestration, reduced spending at Hanford in fiscal 2013.

The budget finally approved by Congress for fiscal 2014 included $200 million more than the administration's request for DOE's nationwide environmental cleanup program.

"The overall support, particularly the $200 million in environmental management, is a testament to the commitment and confidence Congress has in DOE's environmental management program, which includes Hanford," McCormick said.

About $20 million of the $200 million will go to Hanford to bring the budget for the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office to $1.013 billion, thanks to efforts of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. That's in addition to restoring about $79 million for that office lost in fiscal 2013 to sequestration.

The Richland Operations Office is responsible for all Hanford work except the management and treatment of 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks in central Hanford.

The additional $20 million includes $15 million that will be added primarily to the budget for cleanup along the Columbia River at Hanford.

The Richland Operations Office is focused on its "2015 Vision," which calls for the demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant, continuing efforts to clean up contaminated groundwater and completion of most environmental cleanup on Hanford land along the Columbia River.

The additional money will allow DOE to build a full-scale mockup of a vertical pipe unit like those at the 618-10 Burial Ground about six miles north of Richland. The mockup will be used to test techniques to make sure they are safe and reliable before work starts on the vertical pipe units, McCormick said.

From 1954-63, some of the worst of the research waste generated at Hanford's 300 Area was trucked to the 618-10 burial ground. Waste, some of it highly radioactive, was packaged in cans and buckets and dropped down pipes buried vertically.

Tentative plans call for driving a steel pipe into the ground around the pipes and then using an auger to smash up the waste, including the walls of the pipes. Different techniques then could be used to remove the waste, depending on its radioactivity.

The additional money for river corridor cleanup also would be used to accelerate work that can be done now that a 1,153-ton vault and a 1,082-ton test reactor have been lifted out of the ground in the 300 Area just north of Richland. Work now must be done to clean up contaminated soil and piping and the underground concrete structure that housed the test reactor.

Work on one of the most challenging projects remaining in the 300 Area, the highly radioactive spill beneath the 324 Building, already had been included in the administration's budget request. A subcontract has been awarded this year for the engineering on a system to dig up the soil, working from within a hot cell of the building.

The remainder of the $20 million increase -- $5 million -- will bring the account for Richland community and regulatory support back to just less than $20 million, the approximate level of previous years, for fiscal 2014. The account covers payment in lieu of taxes to local government and schools, the Hanford Advisory Board and Hanford regulatory activities, among other uses.

The fiscal 2014 budget will allow momentum to continue to remove glove boxes and other highly contaminated equipment and prepare the Plutonium Finishing Plant for demolition, McCormick said. The project is on schedule to meeting a legally binding deadline to have the plant down in September 2016, he said.

Spending on groundwater cleanup will decrease in fiscal 2014 because of the completion of the construction and startup of Hanford's largest and most complex groundwater treatment system, the 200 West Groundwater Treatment Facility.

Work will continue to treat contaminated groundwater at multiple plants, but a project to expand protection of the Columbia River near the former N Reactor remains on the fence. DOE is discussing with Hanford regulators and its contractor whether an underground chemical barrier can be expanded this year or next, McCormick said.

Injection wells have been drilled, but Hanford workers still need to inject chemicals that will form calcium phosphate, or apatite, that will chemically bind strontium and halt its migration toward the river.

DOE will continue work to build an annex at the K East Basin and purchase equipment needed to remove radioactive sludge that is stored in underwater containers at the basin. In a previous presentation on the level of spending for the K Basins, DOE did not indicate that the $99 million budget would be enough to start sludge removal.

The Hanford Office of River Protection, which is responsible for tank waste, has funding levels unchanged from the administration's budget request released in April.

It will have $690 million to spend in fiscal 2014 at the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste. That is the annual amount long planned to provide steady funding to build the plant.

The tank farms could have had as little $409 million if Congress had not agreed on a fiscal budget for this year, but will receive $520 million.

Money will be spent to empty single-shell tanks, replace aging infrastructure and prepare to feed waste to the vitrification plant in the future.

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

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