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Originally published Friday, March 21, 2014 at 5:55 AM

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Hanford river area cleanup could get biggest budget cut


Tri-City Herald

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About $71 million would be cut from the budget to perform environmental cleanup work along the Columbia River under the administration’s fiscal 2015 Hanford budget request, according to information released Thursday.

The administration’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal for Hanford of just less than $2.15 billion was released about two weeks ago, with more specific information about what work could be done just made public.

The proposed budget holds funding steady for the Hanford vitrification plant and increases it almost $25 million from the current year for the Hanford tank farms, where 56 million gallons of radioactive waste is stored underground.

But it decreases spending for the Richland Operations Office, responsible for all work but the vit plant and tank farms, by about $98 million, or 9.7 percent below spending this year.

Work along the Columbia River takes the biggest hit.

DOE has long planned to finish most cleanup along the Columbia River by the end of 2015 and then shift resources to cleaning up central Hanford.

But central Hanford would not benefit from the decrease in spending near the Columbia River. The budget there would go down by about $12 million from the current year.

Near the Columbia River some major cleanup work still needs to be finished with the $267 million in the proposed budget, which is down from almost $338 million this year.

The proposed 2015 budget includes enough money to start work on the high-hazard vertical pipe units in the 618-10 Burial Ground, but the project would not be finished. Work on the second of the most hazardous burial grounds in the area along the Columbia River, the 618-11 Burial Ground by Energy Northwest’s commercial nuclear power plant, would not start.

Work would continue to prepare to dig up high level waste spilled beneath the 324 Building near the river, but actual cleanup would not begin.

In central Hanford the proposed budget would be down overall, but would boost spending by more than $25 million to continue cleaning out the highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant to prepare it for demolition.

The K West Basin -- which is near the river but assigned to the central Hanford contractor cleanup -- would see a modest budget increase of almost $5 million. Work would progress to build an annex and prepare to remove radioactive sludge held in underwater containers.

But work on a project to dig up and prepare transuranic waste -- typically debris contaminated with plutonium -- to be shipped to a national repository in New Mexico would see a budget cut of more than $17 million. That’s despite no work in the current fiscal year to dig up temporarily buried transuranic waste.

Some of the $17 million budget cut would be because of efficiencies in using the central Hanford groundwater treatment plant to treat waste from the Liquid Effluent Retention Facility, according to the proposed budget documents.

Groundwater protection and cleanup would take a big hit, a reduction of $25 million to about $117 million. To offset that cut, the amount of money spent on overhead such as utilities and the fire department would be reduced and would have to be picked up by other Hanford projects.

A catch-all category that includes expenses such as laundry services, electricity payments and occupational medicine services would be cut about $5 million. Security also would be cut $5 million.

Richland Community and Regulatory Support would lose $5 million, or about a quarter of its budget. The money is used primarily for payments in lieu of taxes to local government, emergency management support, to pay for regulators’ work and for the Hanford Advisory Board.

In the Office of River Protection proposed budget, the increase of almost $25 million to bring tank farm spending to $545 million would pay for work related to the integrity of 177 underground tanks. One single-shell tank is known to be leaking waste into the ground and a double-shell tank has a leak that is contained between its shells.

The additional money also would start preliminary design work for a proposed new underground facility that would remove high-level radioactive waste from liquid tank waste, which is mostly low-activity waste, and allow it to be sent to the vitrification plant’s Low Activity Waste Facility for glassification.

The plan would allow the waste to bypass the vit plant’s Pretreatment Facility, where technical issues have caused construction to stop, and allow some waste to be treated for disposal before it is operating.

The vitrification plant would receive its usual $690 million. The budget for fiscal 2015 would include no money yet to restart construction at the Pretreatment Facility, according to documents.

The U.S. House will start considering the proposed administration budget for DOE on Tuesday.

Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said earlier this month that they were concerned that the administration’s proposal to Congress for Hanford funding was low.

Murray has succeeded in getting more money for Hanford than proposed by the administration in recent years with support from Hastings in the House.



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