Thursday, March 4, 2021
March 4, 2021

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Congress approves $2.6 billion Hanford budget. It’s far more than Trump administration proposal.

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Both the House and Senate have approved spending almost $2.6 billion at the Hanford nuclear reservation for fiscal 2021.

The spending bill passed Monday as part of a $2.3 trillion package to provide relief from the coronavirus and to pay for government operations for fiscal 2021, which began Oct. 1

The Department of Energy has been spending at levels approved for fiscal 2020.

Now the bill, goes to President Trump for his signature.

“Overall, it’s a great bill for the Tri-Cities’ DOE priorities, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic support we received from Sen. (Patty) Murray, Sen. (Maria) Cantwell, and Congressman Dan Newhouse,” said David Reeploeg, vice president of federal programs for the Tri-City Development Council.

In addition to Hanford funds, the bill includes money for construction for new facilities at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, including $23 million to complete construction of PNNL’s Energy Sciences Center and $23 million for its Grid Storage Launchpad project.

The Energy Sciences Center is expected to open in the coming year.

While PNNL draws money for its approximately $1.2 billion annual budget from multiple government agencies, Hanford environmental cleanup is entirely paid for by the Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management.

The bill also extends authorization for contractors to pay the limited number of workers who have not yet been authorized to return to work at the Hanford nuclear reservation because of the COVID pandemic and whose jobs cannot be done by telecommuting.

“It can be easy to take these results for granted, but in reality it takes a tremendous amount of work from our delegation and their staff,” Reeploeg said. “We are extremely fortunate to have a delegation that recognizes the importance of these projects and has the right combination of committee assignments, seniority and relationships in Congress to consistently deliver for the Tri-Cities.”

Hanford site spending

For Hanford environmental cleanup the bill budgets about $43 million more than approved for fiscal 2020. It is nearly $758 million more than requested by the Trump administration for Hanford for fiscal 2021.

It includes $926 million total for the work being done under the Department of Energy Richland Operations Office and more than $1.6 billion for work under the DOE Office of River Protection.

The Office of River Protection is responsible for 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks, many of them prone to leaking, and work to treat the waste for permanent disposal.

The Richland Operations Office is responsible for running the 580-square-mile site and other environmental cleanup there, including removing contaminated buildings, treating polluted groundwater and digging up waste not disposed of to modern standards.

The Hanford site was used during World War II and the Cold War to produce about two-thirds of the nation’s plutonium for its nuclear weapons program.

The statement included with the bill instructs DOE to make working toward the start of treatment of low activity tank waste at the $17 billion vitrification plant’s Low Activity Waste Facility its highest priority in fiscal 2021.

Money also was included in the appropriation bill to resume full engineering, purchasing and construction on the vit plant’s High Level Waste Facility. Much of the work was halted on the building to resolve technical issues in 2012.

Some of the additional money for the Richland Operations Office work, $370 million more than proposed by the administration, is to be spent to continue cleanup of the spill of high-level radioactive waste under the 324 Building just north of Richland near the Columbia River.

The additional money also will be used to develop in-depth plans and processes for moving radioactive cesium and strontium capsules now stored in an aging concrete pool to dry, outdoor storage in specially built casks. The capsules could release radioactive material into the environment in the event of a severe earthquake that damages to pool and its cooling capabilities.

DOE also is instructed to carry out maintenance and public safety efforts at Hanford’s historical sites, including B Reactor, part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. This includes improvements needed to expand public access.

DOE must use $28 million of the appropriation for groundwater cleanup and infrastructure and at least $8.5 million for the HAMMER training center.

Money for community and regulatory support includes $6 million more than requested by the administration, but the $8.6 million appropriated remains $1.5 million under fiscal 2020 spending.

The money must cover Washington and Oregon emergency preparedness, oversight by the Washington state Departments of Health and Ecology, the Hanford Advisory Board and some other miscellaneous oversight expenses.

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