Hanford budget cuts proposed by Trump administration rejected by House, bill passes

The Department of Energy is directed to continue work on the High Level Waste Facility at the Hanford vitrification plant in a spending bill passed by the U.S. House on Thursday.
The Department of Energy is directed to continue work on the High Level Waste Facility at the Hanford vitrification plant in a spending bill passed by the U.S. House on Thursday. Bechtel National

A federal government spending plan passed by the U.S. House on Thursday would boost the budget for environmental cleanup at the Hanford nuclear reservation this fiscal year.

The Senate must also pass the plan before midnight Friday, the deadline that would trigger a federal government shutdown.

The bill sets the Hanford budget for the year that began Oct. 1 at $2.4 billion, which does not include some additional money for security.

It sets the budget at $203 million more than proposed by President Donald Trump administration.

At the level proposed by the administration, hundreds if not thousands, would need to be laid off at Hanford and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Department of Energy’s national laboratory in Richland, according to the Tri-City Development Council.

With no fiscal 2018 budget yet approved, the Hanford site has been operating on a previously approved budget of $2.3 billion, plus security funding.

The administration recommended a budget of $2.2 billion.

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The federal spending bill passed by the U.S. House on Thursday includes money for continued demolition at the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant when a plan is in place to do the work safely. Department of Energy

“Despite deep cuts proposed by the White House, I’m so glad we successfully made the case once again that Hanford cleanup cannot and will not be put on the back burner,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Thursday. “This cleanup must continue in a safe and timely manner.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the increase “is critical to keeping workers safe and meeting important milestones in the cleanup.”

“Hanford is one of the largest cleanup projects in the world, and it requires consistent investment,” Cantwell said.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., was among those in the House voting against the bill, which passed 256-167.

Newhouse said he was proud of his work to improve the proposed Hanford and PNNL budgets included in the bill. But that he could not support the final version of the budget that “simply digs a deeper hole for future generations.”

The national debt has just surpassed $21 trillion, he pointed out.

Office of River Protection budget

The bill would provide $1.56 billion for Hanford work under the DOE Office of River Protection, which includes managing 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in underground tanks and the massive, $17 billion vitrification plant being built to treat waste for disposal.

The waste is left from the past production of plutonium at Hanford for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

The Office of River Protection money would include $740 million for the vitrification plant, up from current spending of $690 million.

The bill also includes some related money — $8 million for some initial commissioning work at the plant, and $93 million for a new pretreatment system that is planned to allow the plant to start treating some low activity radioactive tank waste as soon as 2022.

Money for managing the tank waste, including emptying waste from leak-prone tanks into newer tanks, would drop to $719 million from current spending of $734 million.

DOE would be required under the bill to continue work to address chemical vapor exposures related to tank waste.

The bill also specifically directs work to continue across the plant. There have been concerns that the focus on treating some low-activity radioactive waste as soon as possible would stall work on two large facilities at the plant that will handle high level radioactive waste.

Richland Operations Office budget

The budget for the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office would increase from current spending of $840 million to $863 million, which does not include security expenses. The administration had proposed a cut to $716 million.

The $147 million above the administration’s proposal would allow for continued demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant after safety improvements are put in place and stabilizing the longer PUREX radioactive waste storage tunnel.

Cantwell used her standing as the top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee to help secure money for those projects.

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The budget for the Hanford vitrification plant under construction would increase under the spending bill passed by the U.S. House on Thursday. Bechtel National

The Richland Operations money also will be used to help clean up the highly radioactive spill beneath the 324 Building just north of Richland and to continue work at the K West Basin, where radioactive sludge is being moved out of underwater storage not far from the Columbia River, according to Murray’s staff.

The bill specifically directs DOE to continue to support the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which includes Hanford’s historic B Reactor, and the HAMMER training facility, according to Murray’s staff.

It requires a resource center in Richland to help current and former Hanford workers understand federal and state compensation programs for illnesses caused by working at Hanford.

The office is expected to open in April at 309 Bradley Blvd., Suite 120, thanks to efforts by Murray and Cantwell.

“Overall the … funding bill is good news for Hanford, PNNL and the Tri-Cities,” said Reeploeg of TRIDEC. “Sen. Murray, Sen. Cantwell and Congressman Newhouse came through for us again.”

PNNL has a budget of close to $1 billion annually. But unlike Hanford, it comes from a variety of sources.

Several key DOE programs that help pay for research at the lab received substantially more money than the administration had proposed, according to Murray’s staff.

The bill set the DOE Office of Science budget at $6.3 billion, which would be $1.8 billion more than the administration proposal.

The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would receive $2.3 billion, which would be $1.7 billion more than the administration proposed.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews