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News / Northwest

Biden signs record $3B annual spending for Hanford nuclear site in Eastern Washington

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: March 11, 2024, 7:12pm

KENNEWICK — President Joe Biden signed a spending bill Saturday that includes a record annual budget of just over $3 billion for the Hanford nuclear site in Eastern Washington and averted a partial government shutdown that would have included the Department of Energy.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, advocated for the record Hanford budget.

The money in the bill is essential for continued environmental cleanup progress at Hanford and cutting-edge research at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, said David Reeploeg, Tri-City Development Council vice president for federal programs.

“Sen. Murray’s role as the Senate Appropriations chair has been instrumental in ensuring that the federal government fulfills its responsibility towards the Hanford site and its workers,” said Nickolas Bumpaous, business manager for United Association of Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 598.

Both organizations also called out others for their support of Hanford, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., along with the rest of the Washington delegation.

The bill was passed in the U.S. Senate on Friday by a vote of 75-22 and the U.S. House on Wednesday by a vote of 339-85.

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

The Biden administration had originally proposed a Hanford budget of almost $2.9 billion, 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 has said 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.”

Hanford Challenge also credited Murray’s leadership and tireless advocacy for the record budget.

“As Hanford enters a critical cleanup phase, we welcome the $3.035 billion budget,” said Nikolas Peterson, executive director of Hanford Challenge. “Make no mistake, insufficient funds for Hanford cleanup now will lead to increased long-term costs and more delays.”

Money for Hanford site

The spending bill 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 for the office 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.

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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.

In late February 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 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 will receive a little more than $35 million above fiscal 2023 spending.

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 funding helpful for DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

It includes $65 million for the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at PNNL 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, will receive an increase of $140 million, according to Murray’s staff.

The Water Power Technologies Office will receive a $21 million increase, which will 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.

The bill 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 in negotiations is a second spending bill, which includes military spending. It must be passed by March 22.

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