Estimated cost to finish Hanford cleanup now at $114.8B

The estimated price tag is $114.8 billion for remaining environmental cleanup at Hanford, plus some post-cleanup oversight, according to a new Department of Energy report.

That's an increase from the 2012 estimate of $112 billion.

However, even the new $114.8 billion estimate might not be enough. It's based on annual budgets large enough to meet Hanford cleanup obligations, but those budgets are unlikely to be funded, and costs typically increase when projects are delayed.

The DOE report, entitled "2013 Hanford Lifecycle Scope, Schedule and Cost," includes annual budgets of more than $3 billion for five of the years between now and 2020. Two of those years, the budget figure is more than $3.5 billion.

Hanford typically receives a little more than $2 billion annually for environmental cleanup. DOE has said it expects that level of funding for the foreseeable future.

The annual report is required by October 2010 changes to the legally binding Tri-Party Agreement, and the 2013 report is the third to be published. It is intended to provide estimated costs and schedules for agency and public discussion of cleanup priorities and budget requests.

Final decisions for some projects on the 586-square-mile nuclear reservation have not been made. For those projects, the lifecycle report is required to make a plausible, upper-range estimate.

Hanford cleanup would continue until at least 2060 and possibly 2070, the latest report said. Projected costs also cover post-cleanup management until 2090. Previous lifecycle reports have shown cleanup continuing through at least 2060 and possibly 2065.

Hanford cleanup is managed under two offices. The DOE Hanford Office of River Protection is responsible for 56 million gallons of radioactive waste stored in underground tanks and the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste for disposal. The DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office is responsible for all other environmental cleanup.

The Office of River Protection estimates drop from about $61 billion in the 2012 report to $59.6 billion in 2013. That drop reflects work done in 2012, but does not take into account rising cleanup costs at the vitrification plant.

DOE has said it may not be able to build the vit plant for the planned $12.2 billion, but can't determine the actual cost until technical issues are resolved over the next two years. As a consequence, the likely cost overruns are not included in the lifecycle report.

The Richland Operations Office estimates increased from about $51 billion in the 2012 report to $55.2 billion in 2013. Almost $2 billion of the increase comes from "cocooning" old reactors. The process involves tearing those reactors down to little more than their radioactive cores, then reroofing and sealing them for 75 years, until their radiation decays to more manageable levels.

The cocooned reactors will be moved to a landfill for disposal under current plans, a cost that was not included in previous lifecycle reports.

The remaining increase of about $2 billion is mostly central Hanford work. That includes delaying tear down of T Plant, a massive chemical processing facility that removed plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel. T Plant continues to be used for other projects. It also reflects work required under a 2011 decision to clean up plutonium-contaminated soil.

The new lifecycle cost report is posted at www.hanford.gov on the rotating banner.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews