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News / Northwest

Bill to avert U.S. government shutdown includes record $3B Hanford nuclear site spending

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: March 5, 2024, 8:28am

KENNEWICK — A spending bill negotiated between Democrats and Republicans includes record annual funding of just over $3 billion for the Hanford site in Eastern Washington.

The bill now goes to votes before the U.S. House and then the U.S. Senate before Saturday to avoid a partial shutdown of the federal government, including the Department of Energy.

“I made certain the federal government would make good on its obligation to support the important job being done by the workers for Hanford cleanup,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill is not certain to pass the House.

“House Republicans secured key conservative policy victories, rejected left-wing proposals, and imposed sharp cuts to agencies and programs critical to President Biden’s agenda,” said House Speaker Mike Johnson, according to The Associated Press.

But some House Republicans consider the cuts inadequate.

Hanford site spending

The Hanford nuclear reservation budget proposed in the bill would be a year-over-year increase of $198 million for fiscal 2024, which started in October.

The Biden administration had originally proposed a Hanford budget of almost $2.9 million, and the U.S. House had proposed a budget of $2.8 billion.

The $3 billion in the bill is still below the nearly $3.8 billion the Washington state Department of Ecology says is needed in fiscal 2024 to meet legal requirements for environmental cleanup in the Tri-Party Agreement and a federal court consent decree.

“In recent years, significant strides have been made to adequately fund Hanford thanks to efforts by Congress and the administration,” Ecology, a Hanford regulator, said in a fact sheet. “While progress is being made, funding consistently falls hundreds of millions short of what is needed to meet cleanup milestones.”

However, Ecology was still pleased that the Hanford budget could be increased to more than $3 billion this year.

Laura Watson, Department of Ecology director, called it a huge milestone and credited Murray’s leadership.

“This funding is urgently needed to keep our nation’s most complex radioactive cleanup on track — and it’s a recognition of the responsibility our nation has to restore the Hanford site,” she said. “Completing Hanford cleanup will take decades, but the investments we make today are needed to keep the work moving forward.”

The spending bill to be voted on this week includes almost $1.9 billion for one of two DOE Hanford offices, the Office of River Protection. It is an increase of almost $160 million from fiscal 2023.

The Office of River Protection oversees the Hanford vitrification plant, which could start treating low-activity radioactive waste for disposal in 2025 after construction on it began in 2002.

Work also must be done at the plant to prepare to start treating high-level radioactive waste by 2033 as required in a federal court consent decree.

The Hanford Office of River Protection also is responsible for 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste in underground tanks, many of them prone to leaking, and preparations to separate out some low activity waste from the tanks for treatment at the vit plant.

Last week DOE awarded a 10-year contract, with some work that could extend five more years, valued at up to $45 billion for Hanford vitrification plant operation and management of the tank farms.

The 580-square-mile Hanford site adjoining Richland produced nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War.

The spending plan in the bill includes just over $1 billion for the other work being done to clean up the nuclear reservation and to operate the site, including its roads, fire protection, utilities and information technology, which is under the Hanford Richland Operations Office.

The office would receive a little more than $35 million above fiscal 2023 spending if the bill is approved.

Among the DOE office’s environmental cleanup work is tearing down contaminated buildings, digging up sites where radioactive waste was buried, and cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater.

Money to help PNNL

The spending bill also includes some funding helpful for DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

It includes $65 million for PNNL’s Environmental and Molecular Sciences Laboratory and $10 million for construction of PNNL’s new Microbial Molecular Phenotyping Capability project.

The DOE Office of Science, which supports research at PNNL and universities in Washington, would receive an increase of $140 million, according to Murray’s staff.

The Water Power Technologies Office would receive a $21 million increase, which would support ongoing infrastructure improvement projects at PNNL’s Marine and Coastal Research Laboratory in Sequim, Wash., and continue DOE’s Powering the Blue Economy Initiative.

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The spending bill to be voted on this week includes money for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies; Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies; and Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

Still to be negotiated is a second spending bill, which includes defense spending. It must be passed before March 22.