Show our Energy Secretary that funding Hanford cleanup makes a difference | Editorial

After Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s appointment was confirmed in 2017, he reportedly told his staff at the Department of Energy he wanted to see progress.

No more “kicking the can down the road,” when it comes to Hanford cleanup, he said.

So he must be thrilled with the latest good news to come out of the country’s most contaminated nuclear reservation.

Toxic sludge at Hanford’s K West Basin, which was only about 400 yards from the Columbia River, finally has been moved.

The magnitude of this accomplishment cannot be overstated.

Perry is scheduled to visit the Tri-Cities on Oct. 1 to mark this major achievement and acknowledge that, although slow-going, breakthroughs at the Hanford site are happening.

Not only does the triumph at the K West Basin make the river safer, it also sends a message that cleanup money for Hanford is making a difference — a message we hope Perry takes back with him to Washington, D.C.

It’s one that needs repeating every year.

Last spring, the Trump administration requested a sharp drop in Hanford cleanup funding, suggesting a cut of $416 million for fiscal 2020.

Fortunately, our state has U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who recently secured what may be the highest level of funding in recent years for the Hanford nuclear reservation.

The proposed budget that passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee, that Murray serves on, included a little more than $2.5 billion for the Hanford budget — about $420 million more than requested by the Trump administration.

The Senate budget is what the Hanford site needs.

Cost estimates for cleanup have tripled from estimates made three years ago. In January, DOE released a report that said remaining cleanup costs will be $323 billion to $677 billion.

It’s a shocking number, but the technology required to clean up the radioactive waste won’t come cheap. Estimates are that it could take more than 50 years to finish the cleanup mission.

The 580-square-mile Hanford site is contaminated from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program. Since the government created this toxic mess, it is the government’s job to clean it up.

But it is a constant struggle.

There are still millions of gallons of radioactive waste contained in underground tanks that must be treated, as well as contaminated soil, groundwater, tunnels and buildings. That’s why getting one important area cleaned up is reason to celebrate.

Moving deadly, radioactive sludge away from the Columbia River was no small feat. And amazingly, the contractors hired to do the job finished it ahead of schedule and under budget.

Those are conditions we don’t often see at Hanford.

Hanford contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., owned by Jacobs Engineering, spent a decade on the sludge transfer project. Most of that time was spent making preparations, such as building a transfer annex next to the K West Basin at a cost of $290 million – but it is worth noting that was under the $311 million budgeted.

Perhaps getting highly radioactive sludge away from the Columbia River is not as mind-blowing as sending astronauts into space or the development of the internet, but it’s still a critical, technological development.

We are elated it worked and want to see more successes like that.