Hastings wants to block plutonium shipments to Hanford

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMay 20, 2014 

The Department of Energy would not be allowed to study sending plutonium to Hanford under an amendment that Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has submitted.

It is one of three Hanford-related amendments Hastings has filed to be considered in the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The House is expected to begin hearing more than 300 proposed amendments to the bill Wednesday.

The Obama administration has proposed halting construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, or MOX, at Savannah River, S.C., which had been planned to convert surplus weapons plutonium into fuel for commercial power reactors. It is concerned about the rising costs of the plant.

DOE released a report in April looking at five possible alternatives to MOX for plutonium disposition. They include sending plutonium to Hanford for treatment at the vitrification plant under construction or irradiating some of the plutonium at the deactivated Fast Flux Test Facility at Hanford.

Hastings' amendment would bar DOE from studying those options as long as DOE is missing any legally binding environmental cleanup deadlines, is at risk of missing deadlines or is in dispute resolution over deadlines. The restrictions would apply to the Tri-Party Agreement and the 2010 court-enforced consent decree.

DOE and the state of Washington are in dispute resolution over the consent decree after DOE notified the state it was at risk of meeting most of the consent decree's remaining deadlines.

The amendment would prevent time and money from being wasted to study options that are not workable and could detract from real cleanup work, according to Hastings' staff.

The April report on plutonium disposition said that glassifying the waste at Hanford would have unacceptable technical, regulatory, financial and other risks that could derail completion of the plant, which is already behind schedule. Significant research and demonstration would be needed for plutonium disposition to determine the loading limits of each glass canister, modify the plant's design and develop controls to prevent an unplanned nuclear reaction.

The report also concluded that FFTF, a research reactor, would only be practical for disposing of plutonium in conjunction with the construction of a new reactor.

Hastings also wants to add an amendment to the defense bill that would require public access to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, which is owned by DOE as part of the security perimeter of Hanford and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Hanford Reach National Monument.

The bill would require motor vehicle access and nonmotorized access, but allow access to be controlled through guided tours.

The House passed similar legislation last year, but there was no Senate sponsor for the bill.

Hastings' third amendment would restore $20 million of the proposed cut to defense environmental cleanup.

Although its use is not specified, it could help pave the way to restore $20 million of about $100 million proposed to be cut from the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office budget. The Hanford budget still is set by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, but increasing the spending authorization amount eliminates a possible obstacle to that.

The $20 million increase would come from a reduction of funding for some nuclear weapons-related research.

The bill already includes two Hanford-related sections inserted by Hastings.

It requires the creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which would include Hanford's B Reactor, within a year of passage of the bill.

It also requires that DOE turn over two parcels of Hanford land -- 1,341 acres and 300 acres -- to Hanford's designated community reuse organization, the Tri-City Development Council, by the end of the year. The land is among a small portion of Hanford land planned to be used for industrial development, with most of the 586-square-mile nuclear reservation planned for conservation and preservation use as environmental cleanup is completed.

-- 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