At a time that the Department of Energy’s overall budget is increasing, the Obama administration’s budget requests for environmental cleanup of nuclear weapons sites are dropping, says the Tri-City Development Council.
The proposed cut comes despite both sides of Congress repeatedly supporting the federal government’s legal and moral obligations to clean up Hanford and other sites, TRIDEC said in a letter sent to members of Washington’s congressional delegation.
The cleanup budget request has declined as demands on the program are increasing, from the rising costs at the Hanford vitrification plant to the need to honor international agreements for a South Carolina mixed oxide fuel plant and the need to restart the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico after two accidents in early 2014.
The proposed cut would come as federal projects might again face forced budget cuts called sequestration, following the financial relief for fiscal 2014 and 2015 negotiated by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
The administration’s proposed budget would help with the increasing costs of the vitrification plant, work to start treating waste at the plant as soon as 2022 and better protect workers from chemical vapors.
But it appears to come at the expense of momentum to clean up Hanford along the Columbia River, the letter said.
Robbing the Richland Operations Office or other DOE sites across the nation to support the vit plant and tank farms, under the Hanford Office of River Protection, is not the right answer, TRIDEC said. The Office of River Protection would get an increase of about $200 million under the administration’s budget request.
But the proposed cut of almost $100 million for work along the Columbia River would undercut progress “and literally stop several of the high-priority risk reduction projects underway along the Columbia River,” TRIDEC said in the letter.
“That would be a very unfortunate occurrence given the proximity of the Columbia River and the city of Richland to these last remaining high-rad waste sites, and the investments the Congress has already made in the engineering, design, training and preparations for this work to be completed,” it said.
The Department of Energy “should be loudly and proudly celebrating the tremendous success” of cleanup along the river.
Some 321 buildings out of 331 have been decontaminated and demolished; 89 percent of 585 waste sites have been cleaned up and all of the legally binding deadlines have been reached on time or ahead of schedule, the letter said. One deadline, for the 324 Building, was extended after a highly radioactive spill was found beneath it.
The final completion of several important projects near the river would be delayed because of the proposed budget cut, costing more taxpayer dollars in the long run.
TRIDEC is requesting a $119.5 million increase to the fiscal 2016 budget for the Richland Operations Office, which is responsible for all Hanford work except for the tank farms and vit plant.
It includes an increase of $25 million for the 324 Building, with an additional $15 million required in fiscal 2017 to complete decontamination and remove the radioactive contamination beneath the building over 18 months. Digging is proposed to be done with equipment placed within the building.
Halting or deferring work would cost an additional $5 million per year just to keep the building safe and with electric service.
If radioactive materials are not removed, repairs to the roof and the structure of the building would eventually be required to keep precipitation from reaching the contaminated hot cell that leaked radioactive cesium and strontium into the soil beneath the building, the letter said.
The cleanup of the contamination and spilled waste would greatly reduce the risk to the nearby Columbia River, and demolition of the building could be left for a future date, according to TRIDEC.
The additional money requested by TRIDEC also includes a $5 million increase to help support the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Hanford.
Some money is needed to get the park underway while DOE and National Park Service management plans are being developed, the letter said.
The $5 million could be spent on stabilization or rehabilitation of historic facilities planned to be featured in the park and infrastructure improvements needed to support many new visitors to the park.
The requested increase also would be used to move radioactive sludge stored underwater at the K West Basin to central Hanford and to move more than 1,900 cesium and strontium capsules to dry storage. They now are stored underwater in a deteriorating pool at the Waste Encapsulation Storage Facility.
TRIDEC supports the proposed increased budget for the tank farms and vit plant, but warned that an even larger increase would be required in fiscal 2017, plus more money for utilities, roads and securities to allow operations at the plant.