$115 billion not enough to finish work at Hanford, board says

Do not expect that the $115 billion estimated to be needed to complete environmental cleanup work at Hanford will be adequate to finish the job, according to the Hanford Advisory Board.

The board sent a letter to the Department of Energy and its regulators Friday saying that the estimate does not include cleanup work the board expects may be needed and also does not include fully developed cost estimates for some work.

The $115 billion estimate was the conclusion of the 2011 Hanford Lifecycle Scope, Schedule and Cost Report -- a new requirement of the legally binding Tri-Party Agreement, after DOE negotiated with Washington state and the Environmental Protection Agency to extend some environmental cleanup deadlines.

The report forecasts how much money will be required to finish environmental cleanup in about 2060 and then prevent any intrusion into areas, such as landfills holding radioactive waste, until 2090.

DOE is required to continue preparing the report annually. It is intended to provide costs and schedules that should provide a basis for agency and public discussion of cleanup priorities, including discussions of annual budget requests.

The report represents a significant step forward, but should not be relied on as the final word on how much money will be needed, said Gerald Pollet, who represents Heart of America Northwest on the advisory board.

"It is intended to be a reasonable cost estimate of cleanup as we understand it today," said Stacy Charboneau, deputy manager of the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection. But it is not a most conservative, total potential cost estimate, she said.

The advisory board's letter said the report frequently uses minimal cost alternatives rather than presenting cost ranges. The advisory board long has advocated for the more costly option of removing as much waste as reasonably possible rather than trying to prevent human intrusion into the waste far into the future.

Among work that can be reasonably anticipated that is not included in the cost estimate is additional cleanup along the Columbia River, at least partial retrieval of waste in unlined trenches and soil cleanup around leak-prone underground tanks holding high-level radioactive waste, according to the advisory board.

The report includes a table of cleanup work on which no decision has been made, which could result in more costs. It looked in depth at two of the projects on the list, giving estimates for those that would be in addition to the $115 billion projection. Other projects on the list will be studied in future reports.

The board wants an overall estimate of reasonably anticipated costs for work not included in the $115 billion estimate, it said in its letter.

Future reports should include information on the affects of delaying or accelerating individual projects, the board said. It also should look at costs of responding to problems caused by delays.

The public may comment on the lifecycle cost and schedule report until Thursday. The report is available at www.hanford.gov in the event calendar on each day until then. Comments may be sent to LCCSS@rl.gov or to Shannon Ortiz, Department of Energy Richland Operations Office, P.O. Box 550, MSIN: A5-16, Richland, WA 99352.