Senate committee adds $420 million to what Trump proposed for Hanford

Hanford’s highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant is getting smaller

The Plutonium Finishing Plant keeps shrinking as this time lapse shows. Lower-risk demolition activities at the highly radioactively contaminated plant resumed last September with enhanced safety controls.
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The Plutonium Finishing Plant keeps shrinking as this time lapse shows. Lower-risk demolition activities at the highly radioactively contaminated plant resumed last September with enhanced safety controls.

Sen. Patty Murray secured what could be the highest level of funding in recent years for the Hanford nuclear reservation in the Senate’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget for the Department of Energy.

The proposed budget includes about $420 million more than requested by the Trump administration for a total Hanford budget that would be a little more than $2.5 billion.

The proposed budget passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which Murray, D-Wash., serves. Next it will be considered by the full Senate.

More than 9,000 people work at Hanford.

“The Tri-Cities sacrifices so much to help our nation come through one of the darkest chapters in our history, and it is only right that the federal government honors its commitment to take care of the community by investing the necessary resources in cleaning up Hanford — a complex, long-term project,” Murray said.

The Senate budget proposed higher spending for Hanford than does the House’s Hanford budget in fiscal 2020.

The Hanford budget that passed out of the House Appropriations Committee was for $2.4 billion.

Hanford workers recently went into a rarely entered portion of Hanford’s PUREX plant as part of ongoing surveillance. The plant was once used to separate plutonium from irradiated fuel rods. Courtesy Department of Enerty

It restored $381 million of the cut proposed by the administration thanks to the work of Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., but still would fall about $37 million short of current spending.

“The funding levels in the Senate bill are great for Hanford,” said David Reeploeg, vice president for federal programs for the Tri-City Development Council. “They will allow the site to make substantial progress with the tank waste treatment mission, and to continue important remediation and risk reduction work.”

Hanford budget proposal

The budget for the DOE Office of River Protection would be set at $1.6 billion under the Senate bill.

The office, one of two DOE offices at Hanford, is responsible for the 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks and the $17 billion vitrification plant being built to treat much of the waste.

The waste is left from the past production of plutonium from World War II through the Cold War for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Capture Hanford tanks map (1).PNG
Environmental cleanup is underway at the 580-square-mile Hanford nuclear reservation. The underground tank farms, storing waste from the past production of plutonium, are in the center of the site. Courtesy Department of Energy

The report accompanying the Senate bill requires some of the money to be spent on facilities that will handle high level radioactive waste.

Now DOE is focused on facilities that will handle the low activity radioactive waste as DOE faces a federal court-enforced deadline to start treating that waste in 2023.

DOE has until 2033 to start treating high level radioactive waste, but has notified regulators it is at risk of missing that deadline.

The proposed budget also includes $10 million for the Test Bed Initiative, a pilot project to turn 2,000 gallons of low activity radioactive waste into a concrete-like form and ship it to a private repository for government waste in Texas for disposal.

The vitrification plant was not planned to be large enough to treat all 56 million gallons of tank waste.

The other Hanford DOE office, the Richland Operations Office, would receive $900 million, or $242 million above the administration budget request. It would be $35 million above current spending.

The Hanford vitrification plant is under construction in the center of the nuclear reservation. It will be used to glassify radioactive and hazardous chemical waste now stored in underground tanks. Courtesy Department of Energy

The Richland Operations Office is responsible for providing all services for the 580-square-mile site and digging up buried waste, tearing down contaminated facilities and cleaning up contaminated groundwater and soil.

The proposed budget includes $8.5 million for the HAMMER training center at Hanford, maintenance at the Hanford portion of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and the Hanford Workforce Engagement Center.

Other amounts proposed for specific Hanford projects, ranging from work at the tank farms to groundwater cleanup, were not yet available Thursday.

Budget proposal and PNNL

The spending bill also appeared favorable for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, which draws money from multiple sources for an annual budget close to $1 billion.

The spending bill included $5 million to start work on a national grid energy research facility to be built at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

The budget also included increases above the administration’s request in DOE offices and research programs that help fund some of the research at the lab. The lab employs about 4,500.

They include:

The DOE Office of Science would receive $7.2 billion, or $1.3 billion above the administration’s request.

Within the office’s budget would be $26 million for an additional installment toward construction of another new building at PNNL for energy sciences research.

The Office of Science budget also would include $770 million for the Biological and Environmental Research account, up $65 million from current spending, which is an important account for PNNL research funding.

The DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program would receive $2.8 billion, which would be nearly double the administration’s request and $421 more than current spending.

The DOE Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability program would receive $221 million, which is $64 million more than the administration’s request and $65 million more than current spending.

“We can’t thank Sen. Murray enough for her extraordinary leadership on the Appropriations Committee in fighting for Hanford and PNNL funding,” Reeploeg said. “We also deeply appreciate Sen. Cantwell’s tremendous support on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.”

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.