Senate's Hanford cleanup budget rejects Trump's cuts

The $17 billion Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, or vitrification plant, is being built to treat waste left from the past production of plutonium. The U.S. Senate spending proposal for 2019 includes nearly $1.6 billion for managing the plant and 56 million gallons of radioactive tank waste.
The $17 billion Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, or vitrification plant, is being built to treat waste left from the past production of plutonium. The U.S. Senate spending proposal for 2019 includes nearly $1.6 billion for managing the plant and 56 million gallons of radioactive tank waste. Courtesy Bechtel National

The U.S. Senate has proposed a Hanford budget that is $315 million higher than proposed by the Trump administration.

It would restore all but $25 million of the cuts to current spending that were proposed by the administration.

"I'm so glad that once again, the Senate has rejected the White House's attempt to shirk its responsibility to the Tri-Cities community," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who led Senate efforts on spending for Hanford as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"Cleaning up Hanford is a complex, long-term project that requires significant resources," she said.

The spending bill passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday also includes important funding for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Hanford.

It next goes to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate spending bill for the next fiscal year would provide $2.4 billion for the Hanford nuclear reservation, not including money for safeguards and security.

The House spending bill for Hanford, as passed out of committee would set the Hanford fiscal 2019 budget at about $2.3 billion, not including money for safeguards and security.

The Hanford nuclear reservation's first PUREX tunnel collapsed in May 2017. Government officials and contractors continue to talk about how to address safeguarding both tunnels against further damage.

It includes $247 million more than the administration's request, compared to the Senate proposal's increase of $315 million.

Close to two-thirds of the money in the Senate budget proposal would go to Hanford's Office of River Protection, which would receive nearly $1.6 billion.

It would be $135 million more than the administration's request.

The Office of River Protection is responsible for 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in underground tanks and the $17 billion vitrification plant being built to treat the waste for disposal. The waste is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The proposed Senate budget is just slightly higher than current spending at the Office of River Protection. However, it includes a significant increase for work at the tank farms.

Richland Operations Office

The Richland Operations Office would receive $838 million under the Senate budget, up $180 million from the administration's proposal but about $25 million below current spending.

The Senate bill report said the administration's proposal would not keep environmental cleanup on track to meet legally binding deadlines in future years and would threaten "high-risk cleanup projects near the city of Richland, Wash., and the economically and environmentally important Columbia River."

The Richland Operations Office is responsible for most cleanup other than the waste storage tanks. Its work includes tearing down contaminated buildings, digging up waste sites and debris burial grounds, and treating polluted groundwater.

That office also runs the site, providing services from road maintenance to information technology services.

Significant progress has been made by the Richland Operations Office, the bill report said.

But additional money is needed to clean up the highly radioactive spill beneath the 324 Building just north of Richland and to stabilize the longer of the two PUREX plant waste storage tunnels, among other projects.

Although no money was specifically allocated for DOE's Hanford Workforce Engagement Center in Richland, the bill language instructed DOE to support it. The center opened this spring to guide ill Hanford workers or their survivors to programs that could help them.

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The U.S. Senate's proposed spending plan for the Hanford nuclear reservation in fiscal 2019 would increase spending for the Hanford tank farms storing 56 million gallons of radioactive waste to $772 million. Courtesy Washington River Protection Solutions

Office of River Protection

The money proposed for the Office of River Protection would include an increase of $53 million for work at the Hanford tank farms over current spending, bringing the tank farm budget to $772 million.

The increase would be available to meet federal court-ordered deadlines for emptying leak-prone single-shell tanks, doing maintenance and repairs that have been delayed, and adding waste transfer lines.

The bill also provides $75 million for work on parts of the vitrification plant handling high-level radioactive waste.

It indicates the Appropriation Committee's rejection of any attempt to put those parts of the plant in an extended preservation mode while DOE focuses on meeting a 2023 court-ordered deadline to start treating low-activity radioactive waste.

All parts of the plant are not required to be operating together until 2036.

The bill language makes clear that the Senate Appropriations Committee recommends no money for the Test Bed Initiative, a pilot project to test incorporating low-activity radioactive tank waste within concrete-like grout rather than vitrifying it, or turning it into a glass form.

The Washington state Department of Ecology, a Hanford regulator, has said it expects tank waste to be turned into a stable glass form that research has shown to be protective of the environment.

Sen. Patty Murray tours Hanford’s B Reactor, part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. B Reactor was the world’s first production-scale nuclear reactor, built in World War II as the Allies raced to produce a nuclear weapon ahead of the Nazis. Tri-City Herald File

PNNL and Hanford national park

The Senate spending bill includes $35 million for the next federal installment toward a $90 million building with world class chemistry capabilities planned at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

The current fiscal year's spending plan included $20 million to start the Energy Sciences Capability project. A request for bids for the project's design and construction was issued last week, and construction could start as early as mid-2019.

The Department of Energy lab is planning a facility as large as 145,000 square feet for work on basic science that could lead to the development of advanced catalysts and materials for use in new energy and transportation technologies.

Research at the lab is paid for with money from different programs, some of which would be helped by the Senate budget proposal.

The DOE Office of Science, which is responsible for PNNL, would receive $6.65 billion, which is $1.3 billion more than the administration's proposal.

DOE's Office of Energy and Efficiency and Renewable Energy would receive $2.3 billion, which is $1.6 billion more than the administration's proposal.

The spending bill also includes $20 million for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which includes B Reactor and other historic sites at Hanford.

The money would be split between the Hanford portion of the park and the Los Alamos, N.M., facilities in the park.

B Reactor money could be used for projects ranging from maintenance and repairs to preparing additional areas of the reactor to be opened to visitors.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533; @HanfordNews