$107.7 billion needed to finish Hanford cleanup

Washington Closure Hanford workers excavated soil contaminated with chromium down to 85 feet below the surface near D and DR Reactors.
Washington Closure Hanford workers excavated soil contaminated with chromium down to 85 feet below the surface near D and DR Reactors.

The latest price tag for the remaining environmental cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation comes to an estimated $107.7 billion.

The estimate — released Monday by the Department of Energy with its regulators, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Washington — includes cleanup work planned to be largely completed by 2060, plus some post-cleanup oversight.

This is the sixth annual lifecycle report prepared by DOE since an annual requirement for the report was added to the legally binding Tri-Party Agreement in 2010.

The 2016 Hanford Lifecycle Scope, Schedule and Cost Report estimate is consistent with the 2015 report’s estimated cost, according to the Tri-Party agencies. The 2015 estimate was $110.2 billion.

In recent years DOE has had a little over $2 billion to spend on cleanup.

Costs for specific projects in the report also are adjusted up or down, based on latest estimates. This year’s report is complicated by a change to how infrastructure and sitewide services charges are reported, making comparisons of estimated changes to project costs in the last year difficult.

The report is required to be based on completing cleanup work to meet all regulatory cleanup obligations and deadlines, which can result in some unrealistic annual budget projections.

The 2016 lifecycle report has five years in which cleanup is estimated to require budgets of at least $3 billion. But it has less dramatic spending peaks and valleys than the 2015 report, which showed one year with a budget of more than $4 billion.

In the 2016 estimates, cleanup costs would remain above $2 billion through 2047 and then drop to $1 billion or less starting two years later.

However, the Hanford Advisory Board has noted that if budget figures remain at their current annual spending levels, cleanup could take 20 to 30 years longer than projected.

The report does not reflect changing plans for the Hanford vitrification plant, being built to treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste for disposal. Until a new cost and schedule for the plant is developed, the report is based on plans to start treating waste in 2019 and have the plant fully operating in 2022.

DOE now is proposing that court-enforced deadlines be extended because of technical issues at the vitrification plant. It is proposing that some waste treatment begin as early as 2022 but that that plant not reach full operation until 2039.

Most of the $107.7 billion estimate in the lifecycle report is for cleanup work, with costs of oversight of the site through 2090 estimated at $4.8 billion.

The report breaks down cost estimates separately for the Hanford Richland Operations Office and the Hanford Office of River Protection. The Office of River Protection is responsible for the 56 million gallons of waste stored in underground tanks and the vitrification plant, and the Richland Operations Office is responsible for all other cleanup and sitewide services, such as utilities and security.

The estimate for remaining costs for Richland Operations Office work is $52.7 billion in the 2016 lifecycle report, down from $53.6 billion in the 2015 report. The Office of River Protection estimate is $55 billion in the 2016 report, down from $56.6 billion in last year’s report.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews