Cantwell presses energy secretary on proposed Hanford cut

By:  Annette Cary
Source: Tri-City Herald

The Hanford Department of Energy Richland Operations Office appears to be a victim of its own success, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Thursday.

Cantwell questioned Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz about a proposed cut of more than $190 million for the office in the budget request sent to Congress during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“The Energy Department’s Richland Office has done an incredible job of decontaminating, demolishing, removing waste and remediating the river corridor,” said Cantwell, the ranking member of the committee.

A funding shortfall would endanger continued progress on projects managed by the office, she said. It is responsible for Hanford cleanup along the Columbia River, much of the cleanup work in central Hanford and cleanup of groundwater.

The office has been responsible for decontaminating and demolishing 324 of 332 buildings near the river and cleaning up 574 of 580 waste sites.

Cantwell acknowledged that some remaining work along the Columbia River is technically challenging, but emphasized the importance of remaining projects there. They include cleaning up the soil beneath the 324 Building, which is contaminated with highly radioactive waste.

Moniz said the 324 Building project is moving forward, but that capabilities need to be developed to clean up the waste, and physical realities have to be recognized.

DOE has known about the spill since 2010.

He committed to a discussion of budget constraints with Cantwell and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Several major priorities are covered in the Richland Operations Office budget, including finishing demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant, removing radioactive sludge from the K West Basin and continuing cleanup of central Hanford groundwater, he said.

Cantwell also questioned why there is no money in the DOE budget for the new Manhattan Project National Park, a joint project of DOE and the Department of the Interior.

Moniz said that although there was no specific money for the park in the budget, the park would move forward. After fiscal 2017, there may need to be funds for maintaining and upgrading facilities at the park, he added.

Cantwell said that she would work with him to develop a long-term strategy for paying for the national park and ensuring an enduring partnership between DOE and the Department of the Interior.

Cantwell was pleased with the proposed financial support for the DOE Office of River Protection in the fiscal 2017 budget request, she said. An increase of $86 million is proposed for its programs, which include managing waste in underground tanks and construction of the vitrification plant to treat the waste for disposal.