Keep Hanford land options open, Doc says

The federal government needs to keep all options open and prevent land from being locked up as cleanup is completed on parts of the Hanford nuclear reservation, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said Thursday.

He discussed the future and funding issues for Hanford and other Department of Energy sites in Washington, D.C., as the keynote speaker at the semi-annual meeting of the Energy Facilities Contractor Group.

DOE expects to have most of the cleanup along the Columbia River at Hanford completed by 2015, shrinking the contaminated portion of the nuclear reservation from 586 square miles to about 75 square miles at its center. In addition, much of $1.96 billion in federal economic stimulus money is being used to speed up cleanup and free up areas for other uses, such as a clean energy park to research and produce energy.

A top priority should be ensuring that local communities have a meaningful leadership role in determining their future with these lands, he said.

"It is critical that we remember the unique features of each site and each community," he said.

Earlier this year he worked to get Hanford deleted from a bill that would have designated Hanford as a National Environmental Research Park, believing a designation that covered the entire site could have unintended consequences and reduce flexibility in making long-range land use plans.

Plans also are being made at Hanford's historic B Reactor, where supporters have worked for years to have it preserved as a museum.

A National Park Service study on the reactor was released late Thursday after his speech. In 2004 Hastings and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., wrote a law directing the park service to conduct a study on the potential for developing and using B Reactor and other Manhattan Project facilities in the nation as historical sites.

This year has been a productive one at Hanford, with accomplishments such as surpassing the halfway mark on design and construction of the $12.2 billion vitrification plant to treat some of Hanford's worst waste, he said.

But he's concerned about the budget for fiscal 2011, which is being developed now. Because of the economic stimulus money being spent at Hanford, some leaders in Washington, D.C., may be tempted to cut the annual budget for the site, he said.

"Stimulus funds were never to be used as a substitute for annual cleanup budgets," he said. "That was never the deal. It's not what our site managers, workers, communities and congressional delegations were told."

Reducing annual budgets puts the jobs that were saved or created by stimulus money at risk "sooner rather than later" and sets a bad precedent for future annual budgets, he said.