The fiscal 2017 budget for the Richland Operations Office would need to double to meet environmental cleanup requirements, according to the Department of Energy.
DOE Hanford officials presented budget information for public comment Tuesday evening in Richland in advance of notifying DOE officials in Washington, D.C., of Hanford budget needs for the year after next. About 35 people attended the meeting, which also was webcast.
The Office of River Protection, which is responsible for 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks and the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste for disposal, did not release projected budget numbers Tuesday. The Richland Operations Office, responsible for the rest of Hanford cleanup, projected a need for $1.9 billion.
For fiscal 2016 the administration has requested $914 million for the Richland Operations Office. Both offices together typically receive about $2.2 billion annually.
Never miss a local story.
Jon Peschong, the deputy assistant manager for Richland Operations Office cleanup, outlined the work needed to be done, but said the actual work tackled would depend on money available.
Money for cleanup along the Columbia River would need to increase from the $108 million requested next year to $403 million in fiscal 2017.
Most river corridor cleanup is expected to be finished this fiscal year, but some high hazard projects would remain, including cleaning up the highly radioactive spill of cesium and strontium beneath the 324 Building just north of Richland. On a prioritized list of fiscal 2017 work prepared by DOE, the project was on the borderline for work that could be accomplished with a typical annual budget.
Now the building over the spill protects it from precipitation that could carry it deeper toward groundwater, which moves toward the nearby Columbia River.
“We don’t think contamination beneath the building will migrate,” Peschong said.
But Pam Larsen, speaking as a Richland resident rather than in her role as executive director of Hanford Communities, said underground water lines near the building have leaked twice in recent years. Water lines will remain in use as long as the building stands to provide fire protection.
Gerald Pollet, executive director of Heart of America Northwest, raised the possibility that burrowing animals could spread contamination.
The $403 million budget for work near the Columbia River also would cover finishing cleanup of the 618-10 Burial Ground just north of Richland, where trucks backed up and dumped cans of radioactive research waste down pipes buried vertically in the ground. Work would be started on a similar defense waste burial ground, 618-11, which is near the Energy Northwest commercial nuclear power plant.
The increased budget would only cover the initial paperwork required for approval to move cesium and strontium capsules from underwater storage to storage in dry casks. The capsules account for about a third of the radioactivity remaining at Hanford.
Catastrophic risks need to be moved up the priority list, Pollet said.
In 2014 the DOE Office of Inspector General said the building holding the capsules under water was the DOE facility at greatest risk in the case of a natural disaster beyond what it was designed to sustain. A severe earthquake could leave DOE unable to keep the capsules in cooled water.
Moving the capsules to dry storage will cost $85 million to $130 million, and the annual cost to maintain the capsules under water is $10 million.
Another large increase in the fiscal 2017 budget would be for central Hanford cleanup for which the Richland Operations Office is responsible. Cleanup spending there, not including overhead costs, is proposed at $22 million in fiscal 2016 but at $390 million in fiscal 2017.
The increase would allow the restart of cleanup work at the huge U Plant processing canyon to meet a legal deadline.
Negotiations are underway between DOE and regulators on other legal deadlines that come due this year or in the next few years but are likely to be missed.
They include deadlines to dig up, package and ship central Hanford waste contaminated with plutonium to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. They also include work to build barriers over some underground waste tanks to prevent precipitation from carrying contamination in the soil deeper toward groundwater.
Work under the DOE Office of River Protection in fiscal 2017 could include completing construction of the Low Activity Waste Facility at the vitrification plant, said JD Dowell, deputy manager of the office. Commissioning of the facility, plus the Analytical Laboratory and about 20 support facilities at the vitrification plant, could begin.
DOE is collecting comments on what the public believes Hanford budget priorities should be in fiscal 2017 to submit with the Hanford budget request that is sent to DOE officials in Washington, D.C. Comments are due by June 15 and may be emailed to 2017HanfordBudget@rl.gov or mailed to U.S. Department of Energy; Attn: 2017 Budget; P.O. Box 550, A7-75; Richland, WA 99352.