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News / Northwest

Biden admin proposes 2025 Hanford nuclear site budget, topping record set 2 days ago

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: March 12, 2024, 7:47am

Just two days after a record budget was approved for the Hanford nuclear site, the Biden administration proposed an even larger budget for fiscal 2025.

The environmental cleanup budget for the nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington for fiscal 2024 of just over $3 billion would be increased to about $3.1 billion for the fiscal year that starts in October 2024 under the request released Monday.

The fiscal 2025 request is $72 million more than the spending package just approved for 2024.

A year ago the Biden administration proposed an annual budget of just under $2.9 billion for environmental cleanup work at Hanford.

For fiscal 2023 it recommended only $2.4 billion for Hanford before taking the unusual step of increasing its request about two months later to just over $2.6 billion.

The initial 2023 budget request was the second in a row by the Biden administration calling for a reduced budget for Hanford, but the reductions were less than those proposed by the Trump administration, which wanted a spending cut of $758 million for fiscal 2021.

“The (president’s 2025 budget request) demonstrates a step in the right direction,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “I have practically been a broken record in saying that the federal government has a moral and legal obligation to properly fund the work at Hanford so I am really proud to see the President ask for a historic $3.108 billion.”

In her role as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Murray has been instrumental in pushing for stronger Hanford budgets. She negotiated the fiscal 2024 spending bill signed by Biden on Saturday and worked with Biden to secure his administration’s fiscal 2025 budget request.

“As long as I am Appropriations chair, we are going to do right by the workers at Hanford and make sure we protect the environment and nearby communities like the Tri-Cities,” Murray said Monday.

Hanford request ‘1st step’

Additional work planned at Hanford in fiscal 2025 cannot be done with the additional funding, said David Reeploeg, vice president of federal programs for the Tri-City Development Council.

“Fiscal year 2025 will be a critical year for the Hanford site,” he said.

Vitrification of low-activity radioactive waste in underground tanks is scheduled to begin and the design, engineering and construction work for the facility planned to vitrify high level radioactive tank waste will continue, along with ongoing cleanup work across the rest of Hanford, he said.

Reeploeg called the administration’s budget request “a good first step,” but said more money will be needed for all Hanford projects to stay on task.

Next, Congress will consider the request and use it as a starting point to set spending levels at Hanford.

“We look forward to working with Sen. Murray, Sen. (Maria) Cantwell, and Congressman (Dan) Newhouse to ensure adequate funding is provided in FY25 and beyond,” Reeploeg said.

The Washington state Department of Ecology, a Hanford regulator, has consistently praised Murray and the rest of the Washington Congressional delegation for their work to obtain strong budgets for Hanford with spending that typically is higher than administration requests.

But the state estimates that Hanford will need a budget of nearly $4.6 billion in fiscal 2025 to meet its legal obligations, including under the Tri-Party Agreement and a federal court consent decree.

“President Biden’s proposed 2025 budget of $3.1 billion today for Hanford would be another historic allocation, and another step in the right direction to a compliant Hanford budget.,” said Laura Watson, director of the Department of Ecology Monday. “We will continue to advocate for sufficient funding in Washington, D.C. to keep cleanup on track now and for years to come.”

2025 Hanford request details

The budget request released Monday by the Biden administration calls for $2 billion for the Hanford Office of River Protection, which is responsible for managing 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks and the vitrification plant, which will treat much of the waste for disposal.

The budget request is up $271 million or $15.6% from the spending approved for Office of River Protection programs before the fiscal 2024 spending bill was signed Saturday.

The Department of Energy expects the plant to start glassifying some of the least radioactive tank waste in 2025, allowing its permanent disposal, and work is being done to prepare to start glassifying high level radioactive waste at the plant by a federal court deadline of 2033.

The increased budget request reflects that, plus design and construction activities associated with a modular pretreatment system to prepare tank waste for treatment at the vitrification plant and a risk management program for part of central Hanford with underground tank waste.

The 580-square-mile Hanford site adjacent to Richland is left with radioactive and hazardous chemical waste and contamination after producing nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program during World War II and the Cold War.

The Richland Operations Office at Hanford is responsible for managing the Hanford site and all environmental cleanup other than that related to tank waste. Its oversight includes cleanup of contaminated groundwater, soil and waste sites and removal of obsolete, contaminated buildings, including huge processing plants.

The fiscal 2025 budget request supports work at the aging Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility to transfer capsules of radioactive cesium and strontium from underwater to dry storage by August 2025, additional groundwater treatment, and work at the K West Reactor, the last of Hanford’s nine plutonium production reactors to still hold water in its basin, according to a Biden administration document.

The proposed spending in the Biden administration’s request for Richland Operations Office work would be $1.1 billion, which is 0.6% below spending authorized before Saturday’s approval of the fiscal 2024 spending plan. The 2024 spending plan included a $35 million increase.

The decrease reflects cleanup progress, including to deactivate the K West Reactor basin plus waste site cleanup and demolition of structures near the K East Reactor and the cocooning, or temporary enclosure, of the K East Reactor, according to a Biden administration document.

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