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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Murray secures proposed record-high funding to clean up radioactive waste in Eastern WA

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KENNEWICK — The Hanford nuclear reservation site would receive a record of just over $3 billion in fiscal 2024, up $195 million from current funding, under the U.S. Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill.

It was one of 12 bills that passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee this summer with overwhelming bipartisan votes under the leadership of Chairperson Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

It is a first time since 1918 that all 12 Senate appropriations bills have passed out of committee.

The U.S. House is proposing a Hanford budget of $2.8 billion, which is below the Biden administration’s request of almost $2.9 billion.

Those numbers do not include some additional money, including the costs of site-wide security and management of the defunct Fast Flux Test Facility.

“As long as I am the Senate appropriations chair, Congress is not going to shortchange the Hanford cleanup, the workers who power that mission or the communities living nearby,” Murray said in a statement.

The Senate’s proposed budget would increase spending for the Hanford work under the Richland Operations Office by nearly $36 million to just over $1 billion.

The Richland Operations Office proposed budget would include $10.7 million in “payment in lieu of taxes,” or PILT, to make up for the property taxes not paid for local government services because the 580 square miles of Hanford is federally owned.

PILT money is used for roads, rural libraries, ports, public hospital and other health services, and help for indigent veterans. But the largest chunk goes to schools, primarily the Richland School District.

As recently as 2021, the Biden administration had proposed no PILT money.

The spending for the Hanford environmental cleanup work under the Office of River Protection would increase $160 million to $1.89 billion.

Additional money would be provided for security and the Fast Flux Test Facility.

The Office of River Protection is responsible for the 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste in underground tanks, many of them prone to leaking. It also is responsible for treating the waste at the not-yet-operating vitrification plant or through other methods the Department of Energy may choose.

The Richland Operations Office is responsible for running the site and any other environmental cleanup, including contaminated and unused buildings and reactors; contaminated groundwater and soil; and waste disposal sites that don’t meet modern standards.

The Hanford site in Eastern Washington adjacent to Richland was used from World War II through the Cold War to produce nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Enough Hanford funding?

“At $3 billion total, this (Senate proposal) would be a truly historic cleanup budget which recognizes the additional funding needed for the High Level Waste Facility, while also supporting ongoing efforts across the site,” said David Reeploeg, vice president for federal programs for the Tri-City Development Council.

“As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Murray was instrumental in leading the fight for this funding increase,” he said, also praising Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., for her support of Hanford and science research funding.

The Low Activity Waste Facility at the Hanford vitrification plant is constructed and should begin treating some of the least radioactive tank waste by late 2024 or early 2025.

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But construction still must be done on the plant’s High Level Waste Facility to treat the estimated 10% of waste that is considered high level radioactive waste. Under a federal court consent decree, DOE must begin vitrifying that waste for disposal by 2033.

Although a record high budget is proposed by the Senate, it still is not enough to meet legal cleanup deadlines for Hanford.

The Washington state Department of Ecology, a Hanford regulator, says that would require nearly $3.8 billion in fiscal 2024. It calls that a “compliant budget.”

By meeting or exceeding a compliant budget in the coming years, DOE could spend less at Hanford long-term, saving taxpayers billions of dollars and completing environmental cleanup decades sooner, according to the state.

That would reduce the chance of the release of contamination or an infrastructure collapse, it said in a fact sheet.

Up to half of Hanford’s budget now pays for daily maintenance such as security, fire protection, utilities and roads, which are needed as environmental cleanup continues. Those costs increase each year and do not contribute to the actual cleanup effort, it said.

After the House and Senate pass appropriation bills, they are reconciled to set a final budget amount. If the Energy and Water Appropriations bill is not approved and sent for the president’s signature, fiscal 2024 will start in October with a budget that matches the fiscal 2023 appropriation.

PNNL in line for funding

The Senate’s Energy and Water Appropriations bill also includes money that would help fund research at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland:

  • The DOE Office of Science would receive $8.43 billion — a $330 million increase over last year’s funding. The money would support basic scientific research, including at PNNL
  • DOE’s Earth and Environmental Systems Science program would receive $940 million, an $8 million increase over last year’s funding level. The bill includes $65 million for the Environmental and Molecular Sciences Laboratory at PNNL and $10 million for construction of PNNL’s new Microbial Molecular Phenotyping Capability project.
  • DOE’s Energy Delivery Grid Operations Technology would receive $37 million, an increase of $6 million above last year’s funding level.

The increase would support efforts by PNNL to develop a national platform to host the data necessary for grid reliability modeling and analytics to support the clean energy transition.

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