Dan Newhouse’s first tour of Hanford since being elected to Congress helped put the nuclear reservation into perspective — its huge size, the complexity of its issues and the importance of the environmental cleanup there, he said.
He’d visited as recently as the 70th anniversary of B Reactor this fall, one of several visits over the last 30 years. And he grew up near Sunnyside, where the parents of classmates commuted to Hanford for work.
But he requested the daylong tour Monday to better prepare him to start working on Hanford issues immediately when he becomes the 4th District representative Jan. 6, he said.
“The Hanford area is a priority of mine,” he said. “I thought it was important to visit before the next session of Congress begins.”
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Newhouse, a Republican, ended the tour heartened by the commitment of Hanford workers to clean up waste and contamination on the 586-square-mile site and encouraged by the plans outlined for him to move cleanup forward, he said.
“It gave me an understanding of what happened in the past and what is happening now,” he said.
More people will have the chance to gain a better understanding of Hanford after passage of legislation earlier this month to create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, he said. The park will include Hanford’s historic B Reactor and tell the story of its role in making plutonium for the world’s first atomic explosion during World War II and with other reactors during the Cold War.
One of the first Hanford issues he’ll likely work on is the fiscal 2016 budget, as the administration releases its request for funding as soon as February amidst tight federal budgets. A flat budget request for DOE cleanup projects is expected, as needs at Hanford and other sites, including a troubled national repository in New Mexico, are increasing.
“It is important to have stable funding to continue the work going on,” Newhouse said.
He is concerned that if work slows down on Hanford projects the loss of momentum will not only jeopardize progress but also increase costs, he said. Overhead costs continue to have to be covered for more years to keep facilities in stable and secure condition, and the cycle of laying off workers, rehiring workers and retraining them is expensive, he said.
He does not want to see the budget for one of Hanford’s management offices prioritized at the expense of the other, he said. The DOE Hanford Office of River Protection is responsible for managing 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks and the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste. The DOE Richland Operations Office is responsible for the rest of the environmental cleanup work at Hanford and sitewide management.
Prioritizing the budget of one office over the other would compromise the work of the other, Newhouse said.
Newhouse will take the seat of Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who is retiring after 20 years. But Hastings has continued to ask DOE for more information on Hanford issues, even though answers were unlikely before he leaves office.
This month Hastings asked DOE to explain the implications of building more storage tanks at Hanford rather than Hastings’ preferred plan of focusing on treating waste in the tanks. In October he asked DOE for information on its plans for getting radioactive sludge removed from underwater storage not far from the Columbia River. DOE is being fined $10,000 a week after missing a deadline to start removing the sludge.
Newhouse said Hastings raised important questions on decisions that need to be made and the information will be helpful to him.
“As he walks out the door, he is leaving the table well set for me,” Newhouse said.
Newhouse also is focused on general administration tasks as he prepares to take office, including setting up three district offices. They will in the Tri-Cities, in Yakima and a town not selected yet farther north in the district. The location for the Tri-City office has not been announced.
He also has been given his committee assignments.
He’s been assigned to the Agriculture Committee, a natural fit with his farming background and interest in agriculture. He farms in Sunnyside and is the former Washington state director of agriculture.
He’ll serve on the Natural Resources Committee, where Hastings has served as chairman. And he’ll serve on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, which may be helpful for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory or Hanford, he said. His subcommittee assignments have not been announced.
“I hear that freshmen don’t always get what they want, but I don’t think I could have done any better,” he said.