Hanford cleanup is a long-term mission that requires a long-term, stable funding stream.
Thankfully our Northwest congressional leaders understand this, and have fought hard to add money to the decimated Hanford budget proposed earlier this year by the Trump administration.
We trust they will keep up the pressure until the funding package is fully approved.
Federal legislators who don’t live near Hanford have a tendency to underestimate the amount of money needed to clean up decades of radioactive waste left at the nuclear site.
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It seems they must constantly be reminded this is where plutonium was produced for the nation’s nuclear weapons program during World War II and the Cold War.
And it was just over a year ago a tunnel used to enclose radioactive materials from the Cold War collapsed unexpectedly in central Hanford.
It should have been a wake-up call and an example of how dangerous it would be to cut funding — and corners — at what is considered the nation’s most contaminated nuclear waste facility.
But with no airborne radiation detected and no workers injured or contaminated (that we know of), the scare seems to have been forgotten by many government officials.
Fortunately for the Tri-City region, Democratic U.S. Senator Patty Murray has been a constant champion when it comes to securing the billions of dollars necessary to keep Hanford cleanup on track.
As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she led the Senate effort last week to boost Hanford’s budget, securing $2.4 billion for the next fiscal year, not including money for safeguards and security.
That restores all but $25 million of the cuts to current spending that were proposed by the Trump administration.
The White House budget proposal would have made a $230 million reduction to the Hanford nuclear reservation budget. That kind of funding drop would have frightening consequences, significantly hindering cleanup efforts and affecting worker safety.
Every budget cycle, we wonder how much Congressional funding will go toward Hanford cleanup and every budget cycle we rely primarily on Murray’s clout in the Senate and our regional leaders in the House to make sure there is enough.
The Senate bill also includes $20 million for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, featuring the B Reactor.
The Department of Energy Office of Science, which is responsible for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, would receive $6.65 billion, which is $1.3 billion more than the administration’s proposal.
The House spending bill for Hanford that was passed out of committee would set the budget at about $2.3 billion. It included $247 million more than the administration’s request, compared to the Senate proposal’s increase of $315 million.
Obviously, we prefer the Senate version.
The federal government created this hazardous waste site and it would be morally reprehensible if lawmakers shirked their duty to clean it up.
But without the tenacity of Senator Patty Murray and our other congressional leaders — Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell and Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse — they might try to get away with it.