Murray grills energy secretary on Hanford funding
The Obama administration’s proposed Hanford budget seems to foreshadow declaring a cleanup victory, leaving critical work unfinished, Sen. Patty Murray said Wednesday.
The Washington Democrat pressed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz for information on the Department of Energy’s plans during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee.
The Obama administration has proposed a 2017 fiscal budget to Congress that would cut money for work under DOE’s Hanford Richland Operations Office by almost $191 million to $800 million.
The office is responsible for overall management of the Hanford nuclear reservation and all cleanup other than the 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in underground tanks and the vitrification plant being built to treat it.
That is the responsibility of the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection, which would see its budget increase by $86 million to $1.5 billion in fiscal 2017 under the administration’s request.
“I find it unacceptable that the president’s budget essentially robs Richland Operations to pay for the Office of River Protection’s waste treatment mission,” Murray said.
With those kinds of significant cuts, how will the administration meet its legally binding commitments to the Tri-Cities community?
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The proposed cut for the Richland Operations Office is almost double the cut proposed by the administration for the current fiscal year budget. Murray worked to restore that money.
“With those kinds of significant cuts, how will the administration meet its legally binding commitments to the Tri-Cities community?” Murray asked.
DOE is trying to use a limited total budget to address priorities, including those that have the highest risk, particularly liquid, or tank, waste held at several DOE sites, Moniz said.
Substantial progress has been made on Richland Operations Office projects, particularly in cleanup near the Columbia River. The proposed budget would cover major progress to complete the demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant and move radioactive sludge now in the K West Basin away from the river, he said.
But high-risk projects remain unfinished near the river and the city of Richland, Murray countered.
We are trying to prioritize the risks, but let’s work together on that and come back with a plan.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz
Murray said cleanup of the 324 Building, which sits above a highly radioactive spill, and completion of waste retrieval at the high-risk 618-10 Burial Ground are underfunded in the administration’s budget proposal.
Moniz said that DOE cannot start digging up the dirt beneath the 324 Building until robotics technologies are developed specifically for the project.
Murray agreed that significant progress has been made in cleanup along the Columbia River under a plan to focus on that work first. But the Richland Operations Office still is responsible for central Hanford cleanup, she said. Central Hanford has about 1,000 waste sites and 500 facilities, plus contaminated groundwater to be cleaned up.
“All pose risks to the public, environment and work force,” Murray said. “And every year that those aren’t addressed, DOE spends millions on surveillance and maintenance.”
All pose risks to the public, environment and work force. And every year that those aren’t addressed, DOE spends millions on surveillance and maintenance.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Moniz agreed to work with Murray to prioritize cleanup risks, and to prepare a detailed plan on how DOE would get the 324 Building and the 618-10 Burial Ground cleanup completed.