Proposed federal budget has less money for Hanford

March 4, 2014 

— The Hanford budget would drop by $73.5 million in the next fiscal year under a proposal released Tuesday by the Obama administration.

Neither Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., nor Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., were pleased with the budget request of just under $2.15 billion.

"Despite the strength of the president's overall budget proposal, I am very concerned by the proposed funding levels for nuclear waste cleanup at the Hanford site," Murray said in a statement.

She will ask the director of the Office of Management and Budget today at a Senate Budget Committee hearing whether the proposed budget would allow Hanford and other Department of Energy environmental cleanup sites to meet their legal obligations, she said.

Hastings said in a statement that an overall increase in DOE spending was proposed, so "it's difficult to understand why funding for meeting the federal government's existing legal cleanup obligations is cut significantly in this request."

Gov. Jay Inslee also weighed in. "In order for the federal government to meet its legal and moral obligations at Hanford, it must have sufficient financial resources. The first step in achieving that is for the administration to request adequate funding," he said.

The DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office would suffer the largest decrease of any DOE Office of Environmental Management cleanup program in the nation.

The administration is proposing dropping its budget by $98 million to $914 million in fiscal 2015, a spending cut of 9.7 percent. Those figures include not only cleanup money but also some other spending, such as for security and Hanford's Fast Flux Test Facility, which is not a defense project.

"Any way you slice it, cleanup would undoubtedly be impacted by a cut of this magnitude to the Richland Operations Office," Hastings said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is concerned that the proposed cut to the office's budget would put projects at risk of falling behind, said press secretary Scott Gutierrez.

The Richland Operations Office is in charge of all Hanford activity except underground tanks holding 56 million gallons of radioactive waste and the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste.

Among work that has been planned by the office in fiscal 2015 is completing most Hanford cleanup along the Columbia River, continuing to treat contaminated groundwater and continuing demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant in central Hanford.

The Richland Operations Office released a statement saying the administration's budget request would allow it to continue making significant progress.

However, the recently released 2014 Lifecycle Scope, Schedule and Cost Report projected that DOE would need about $3.2 billion in fiscal 2015 to keep on track to meet its cleanup obligations at both Hanford offices.

A budget breakdown showing how the $914 million proposed by the administration would be divided among projects under the Richland Operations Office was not released Tuesday.

The DOE Hanford Office of River Protection would receive a budget increase of 2 percent under the administration's proposal.

Money for the Hanford vitrification plant would remain steady at $690 million, but the Hanford tank farms could increase spending by almost $24.8 million to $545 million. Work is under way at the tank farms to empty leak-prone single-shell tanks, to assess the condition of aging tanks, to improve infrastructure and to prepare to feed waste to the Hanford vitrification plant.

"We are in the process of negotiating a new framework for the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant which we believe will be a very effective approach to vitrifying the Hanford tank waste," said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in a press conference announcing the proposed DOE budget.

The Office of River Protection released a brief statement saying only that the budget proposal would allow it to continue making progress.

Hanford officials declined requests for interviews.

Murray will ask the administration to explain how it reached the proposed funding levels in the budget request, she said.

"The cleanup work at Hanford is one of Washington state's most important environmental priorities, so despite real budget restraints, it is critical for the federal government to provide the necessary resources to meet its obligations and keep cleanup work on schedule," she said.

As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she led work to secure about $2.2 billion for Hanford cleanup work this year.

Cantwell, Hastings and Inslee said they also will work to make sure Hanford has an appropriate budget for fiscal 2015.

"Today is just the beginning of the process," Hastings said.

In addition to working on the Hanford budget, Hastings will work to eliminate funding proposed by the Obama administration to continue the shutdown of the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste repository, he said.

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