The Obama administration is requesting a largely flat budget of $2.2 billion for the Hanford nuclear reservation in fiscal 2013.
However, money for the vitrification plant would be reduced from current spending, another signal that a deadline of starting up the plant by 2019 to treat radioactive waste for disposal may not be met.
Overall, Hanford fared well, considering the total budget request for Department of Energy environmental cleanup across the nation dropped by about $60 million. About 40 percent of the total in the administration's budget request would go to Hanford.
Monday's announcement of the administration's budget request for Hanford in the next fiscal year is an early step in the budget process. Congress now will consider the proposal and set appropriation amounts.
The biggest proposed change between spending during the current year and fiscal 2013 is at the vitrification plant, formally called the Waste Treatment Plant. Its budget would drop back to $690 million, down from $740 million this year.
"The decrease reflects the project's opportunity to resolve technical issues in pretreatment," according to the budget request document.
As construction continues on the $12.2 billion vitrification plant, work also continues to resolve technical questions, particularly in the Pretreatment Facility. They include whether waste will be well mixed in the plant to prevent a criticality or buildup of flammable gases and to determine whether piping and vessels that will hold high level radioactive waste will corrode before waste treatment is completed.
Progress would be maintained under the budget request toward finishing other vit plant buildings, including the Low Activity Waste Facility, the Analytical Laboratory, the High Level Waste Facility and support facilities, according to the budget request document.
The plant was planned on a steady budget of $690 million a year. But then DOE said some money from the later years of the project should to be spent sooner to resolve technical issues and for use in peak construction years. That plan required spending of $970 million in fiscal 2013, or $280 million more than the administration is requesting.
DOE is going to "rebaseline" the vitrification plant this year, said David Huizenga, DOE acting assistant secretary for environmental management. After a construction project review report released in November showed that the cost of $12.2 billion and schedule for completion and commissioning of the plant were at risk, DOE notified Washington and Oregon that it might not meet court-enforced deadlines for the plant.
"I will closely monitor the WTP rebaselining effort and press DOE for complete transparency as work continues toward the goal of a safe, functional and efficient treatment facility," said Rep. Doc Hastings,R-Wash., in a statement.
Overall, he found the budget request positive for the DOE Office of River Protection, which includes the vitrification plant and the tank farms storing waste that will be treated, and the DOE Richland Operations Office, which includes all other Hanford environmental cleanup.
The budget for the Richland Operations Office would increase about $16 million from current spending to almost $1.04 billion. The Office of River Protection budget would drop about $10 million to $1.17 billion.
The budget request would be enough to meet legally enforceable deadlines under the Tri-Party Agreement and consent decree that come due in fiscal 2013, according to DOE. However, DOE also must keep cleanup on track to be able to meet deadlines further in the future.
Although vitrification spending would be cut $50 million, spending at the tank farms, where 53 million gallons of radioactive waste are awaiting treatment, would increase $40 million. The additional money would mostly be used for work needed to make sure the waste can be delivered for treatment to the vitrification plant when it begins operating.
At the Richland Operations Office, the Plutonium Finishing Plant would see an increase of almost $23 million to $122 million to work toward completion of cleanup in 2015. Spending on cleanup near the Columbia River would drop by $8 million to about $321 million as the project begins to ramp down toward completion in 2015.
Groundwater cleanup and protection program money also would decrease, with spending declining from about $19 million to $15 million. The drop reflects completion of construction on new systems to treat contaminated ground water. With those completed, Hanford should treat more than 1 billion gallons of ground water in fiscal 2013.
DOE also would cut spending on community and regulatory support from about $19 million to$15 million, although the budget request did not specify what support would be cut. The money is used for emergency preparedness grants, money for regulation of Hanford by Washington state and for payments in lieu of taxes to Benton, Franklin and Grant counties.
The federal budget request released Monday also affects Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland. But because the DOE national lab draws money from so many federal programs and projects, the potential effect is difficult to immediately gauge.
The request, if enacted as is by Congress, appears to provide stable or increased funding for PNNL research programs designed to increase U.S. energy independence, including projects to improve the electric grid, for battery storage, to reduce or capture carbon emissions and to advance fuel cell research, said PNNL spokesman Greg Koller.
There also could be opportunities with the proposed Energy Innovation Hub on grid systems and with research projects focused on improved energy storage materials.
However, areas of concern continue to be environmental work paid for by DOE's Office of Environmental Management and some of the lab's national security work as the nation redirects its national security spending, Koller said.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com