House bill would create national park, bar plutonium shipments

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMay 22, 2014 

Making B Reactor part of a national park and effectively barring plutonium shipments to Hanford are among provisions of the 2015 House National Defense Authorization Act passed Thursday.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., added those provisions in the bill and other language to require public access to Rattlesnake Mountain, to transfer unneeded Hanford land for industrial development and to clear the way to restore some environmental cleanup funding.

"This is about taking the steps necessary to move Hanford cleanup forward and implement our community's vision for the future as more work at the site is completed," Hastings said.

The bill requires that a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which would include Hanford's historic B Reactor, be created within a year of passage of the legislation. The same requirement was included in the 2014 House National Defense Authorization Act, but was removed during final negotiations with the Senate.

"There is strong, bipartisan support for this measure and it enjoys broad support from local communities and national advocates for historic preservation and parks," Hastings said. "The goal is to enact this into law before the end of this year, and today's action demonstrates real progress toward achieving it."

The new national park would include Manhattan Project facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M., in addition to Hanford's B Reactor and possibly other historic areas at Hanford.

"With only a very small percentage of our national parks currently dedicated to interpreting science and technology, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park would help enhance our National Park system," said Rob Smith, Northwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association.

He called on Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., to continue their support of the proposed park and ensure it is included in the Senate version of the defense bill.

The House defense bill that passed last year also included a requirement that DOE transfer Hanford land set aside for industrial use to the Tri-City Development Council, but was removed during negotiations with the Senate.

The current bill requires that parcels of 1,341 acres and 300 acres, be transferred by the end of the year to TRIDEC, which is designated as DOE's community reuse organization.

Most of Hanford's 586 square miles is planned to be used for preservation and conservation of shrub-steppe habitat as environmental cleanup from past weapons plutonium production is completed.

The provision to allow at least limited public access to Rattlesnake Mountain, the highest point in the Mid-Columbia, also is making a repeat appearance. The requirement could be fulfilled by periodic guided tours. Similar legislation was passed unanimously by the House in 2011 and 2013, but failed to find a sponsor in the Senate.

"As cleanup is completed, opportunities to diversify our economy through land transfers and to draw visitors to our area out at B Reactor and through access to Rattlesnake Mountain and other parts of the Hanford Reach National Monument are critical to carrying out our community's plans for the future," Hastings said.

"I'm hopeful the Senate will join us in these plans and allow these priorities to become law," he said.

Hastings succeeded in getting an amendment inserted in the bill Wednesday evening to prevent further studies of shipping plutonium to Hanford as long as DOE is not meeting or is at risk of not meeting its legal obligations, including requirements in the Tri-Party Agreement and the 2010 court-enforced consent decree.

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

Among the plutonium the plant would treat is plutonium stored at Hanford from the end of the Cold War plutonium production until it was shipped to Savannah River in 2009.

With the future of MOX in question, DOE released a report this spring looking at possible other options for excess plutonium. Possible options included glassifying the waste at the Hanford vitrification plant or restarting Hanford's Fast Flux Test Facility, a deactivated research reactor. The report indicated there would be major issues with both of those proposals.

"DOE just finished shipping plutonium from (Hanford's) Plutonium Finishing Plant to South Carolina five years ago," Hastings said. "Studies that involve shipping it -- and more -- back here make no sense and would only divert focus from real cleanup work."

DOE has real challenges to address, including an irresponsible budget request for Hanford and a continued failure to provide details about the path forward at the Hanford vitrification plant, "without producing reports on unworkable alternatives to MOX," Hastings said.

The defense bill also would authorize spending $20 million more on DOE environmental cleanup than proposed by the administration for fiscal 2015. The administration proposal would cut about $100 million from the budget of the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office.

The authorization of additional money is intended to ensure that Hanford cleanup commitments could be met, including work to complete most Hanford cleanup along the Columbia River in 2015, according to Hastings' staff. The increase still needs to be included in appropriations bills.

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

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