A Washington congresswoman in a position to influence the federal dollars available for Hanford environmental cleanup got her first look at Hanford on Monday since becoming a U.S. representative.
Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., was named to the powerful House Appropriations Committee in November. With the retirement of Democrat Rep. Norm Dicks,, she and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, are the only Northwest representatives to serve on the committee that decides how discretionary federal tax money will be spent, including at the Hanford nuclear reservation.
"Once the federal government makes a contract, it should abide by it," Herrera Beutler said at the end of the tour Monday.
Under the Tri-Party Agreement, the Department of Energy agreed to deadlines to clean up Hanford, which is contaminated from producing plutonium for weapons during World War II and the Cold War.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who accompanied her Monday, invited Herrera Beutler to tour Hanford as soon as she was named to the Appropriations Committee, she said.
It also is an important issue to her constituents.
"The Columbia River was part of my childhood," she said.
The residents of her district, which stretches along the Columbia River from the western boundary of Benton County to the Pacific Ocean, are concerned about Hanford and protecting the river, particularly in light of recent news about leaking underground waste tanks, she said.
Six tanks were discovered to be leaking radioactive waste into the soil beneath them this winter, and one of the newer double-shell tanks was discovered to have a leak within its shells.
Hanford's single-shell tanks, some of which have held waste since World War II, have been known to be leaking for decades, and DOE has responded by monitoring and remediating the leaks, Hastings said.
A total of 68 tanks are suspected to have leaked or spilled radioactive waste at some time, although only six are known to be leaking since pumpable liquids were removed from them.
Those tanks are estimated to be losing less than 3 gallons a day, compared with an estimated 1 million gallons of waste previously leaked from the tanks or spilled during tank operations.
But the leaks have made national news, and the attention to Hanford will help as Herrera Beutler makes the case for Hanford funding, she said.
"Congress shouldn't operate that way, but it is reactive," she said.
The administration's proposed 2014 budget for Hanford increases spending for the Hanford tank farms, but then evens that out by reducing spending elsewhere at Hanford. Hanford supporters have questioned if the proposed budget provides adequate money for cleanup of central Hanford groundwater contamination and for cleaning up the highly radioactive waste that has leaked beneath the
324 Building just north of Richland and near the Columbia River.
But it is early in the appropriations process and Congress still is looking at proposed appropriations, Hastings said.
Herrera Beutler previously toured Hanford when she served in the Washington Legislature from 2007-10.
"A lot has been done. A lot needs to be done," she said after Monday's tour.
Much cleanup work appears to have been done in the last decade, she said. DOE has been working toward its plan of cleaning up Hanford along the Columbia River and shrinking the portion of the site needing cleanup from 586 square miles to 75 square miles or less at its center by 2015.
Much of Hanford's most challenging work is in the center of the site, where irradiated fuel was chemically processed to remove plutonium.
To keep the momentum, the federal government will need to honor its environmental cleanup responsibilities, Herrera Beutler said.