In addition to the Super Bowl, Winter Olympics and the upcoming March Madness, this time of year also brings a political game called Hanford cleanup funding.
It isn’t a sport, but it involves important players, opposing sides and strategy. Its outcome is significantly more important than any athletic event.
This political contest typically begins with a budget proposal from the White House that reduces Hanford cleanup money. The challenge then, is to restore it.
Over the years our community has been fortunate. Our Northwest congressional delegation has managed time and again to overcome proposed cuts to the cleanup mission at Hanford.
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This year their fight is the same.
The budget proposal recently released from the White House for fiscal 2019 calls for a $230 million cut to Hanford nuclear reservation spending.
That is a frightening reduction.
We will be relying on our Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well our Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse, to convince their fellow lawmakers that Hanford cleanup must be fully funded.
Newhouse said it’s important to remember that the president’s budget proposal sets priorities, but has no “force of law.”
He noted this is how budget negotiations always start in Washington, D.C., and he will work across the aisle in both the House and Senate to boost Hanford cleanup money.
Congress sets the budget, and Newhouse said he will justify to his colleagues the need to bring Hanford funding to appropriate levels.
We certainly hope he and his counterparts are successful.
David Reeploeg, vice president of federal programs for the Tri-City Development Council, said that while the administration’s budget proposal is a starting point for discussion, it is still a concern.
“At these funding levels it would be extremely difficult to keep Waste Treatment Plant construction on track, proactively work to prevent incidents like last year’s PUREX tunnel collapse from happening in the future, and to meet cleanup milestones,” he said.
A tunnel used to enclose radioactive materials left over from the Cold War collapsed unexpectedly in central Hanford last May.
The scare went nationwide. While no airborne radiation was detected, no workers were injured and none were known to be contaminated, the alarm caused by the incident should have been a warning to federal lawmakers that Hanford cleanup depends on a continual, reliable and sufficient budget.
That doesn’t appear to be the case, however.
The cuts the president has proposed would significantly set back the cleanup mission, not to mention that cutting corners endangers public safety and the health of those who work at the nuclear site.
The administration’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget for projects under the Department of Energy’s Hanford Office of River Protection would be $1.4 billion, a drop of $61 million from current spending. This would affect the management of underground tanks that hold 56 million gallons of radioactive waste.
At DOE’s Hanford Richland Operations Office, the budget would drop by $169 million to $747 million.
Stabilizing the PUREX waste storage tunnels, cleaning up a highly radioactive spill beneath the 324 Building just north of Richland, and the demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant all could be adversely affected if this budget isn’t restored to adequate levels.
We believe there needs to be a holistic approach to Hanford cleanup, and funding must be consistent in order for progress to be made.
The toxic mess and radioactive waste is left over from past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program from World War II and the Cold War.
Every budget cycle, we wonder how much Congressional funding will go toward Hanford cleanup. The federal government created this dangerous, radioactive site, and it has a moral and legal obligation to make it safe.
That won’t happen if our congressional delegation loses this political game.