Battle over ‘disappointing’ Hanford budget heats up days after Biden signs 2022 plan

President Joe Biden cut an estimated $172 million from the Hanford cleanup plan in his fiscal year 2023 budget request released just days after he signed a belated spending plan covering the remaining six months of the 2022 fiscal year.

The president’s fiscal year 2023 budget request was released March 28, 13 days after Biden signed a $1.5 trillion spending bill that sent $2.6 billion to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for the Hanford cleanup. The 2022 budget year ends Sept. 30.

Biden’s 2023 proposal includes $7.6 billion for nuclear cleanup activities at Hanford and its fellow weapons communities, including the Savannah River site in South Carolina.

David Reeploeg

David Reeploeg, vice president for federal affairs for the Tri-City Development Council, said the 2023 request is a starting point for discussions.

Gov. Jay Inslee weighed in immediately, saying he was “concerned” about shortchanging Hanford as it prepares to begin turning the
56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste stored in 177 underground tanks into glass at its new $17 billion Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant in the coming year.

“Now is the time to redouble our efforts at Hanford, not to curtail them,” Inslee said via Tweet shortly after the budget request was released on the White House website.

Laura Watson, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, traveled to Washington, D.C., in mid-March to ask that the government allocate more than $7 billion in the next two years – $3.35 billion in 2023 and $3.76 billion in 2024.

The president’s budget was “terribly disappointing,” she said via Tweet.

“I was in Washington, D.C., earlier this month talking to federal officials about the urgency of fully funding the Hanford cleanup. Failing to meet the needs at Hanford is risky and misguided,” she wrote.

Watson is no passive observer. The Department of Ecology is a party to the Tri-Party Agreement, the 1989 contract that governs the Hanford cleanup. DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency are the others.

The federal government’s own figures show it will take far more than the $2.6 billion awarded each year since 2019 to vitrify tank waste.

Over its lifetime, the process will cost $320 billion to $660 billion, figures confirmed in DOE’s 2022 Hanford Lifecycle Scope, Schedule and Cost Report, which was released in January.

The 2022 budget sent $1.65 billion to DOE’s Office of River Protection and $950 million to its Richland Operations Office.

Reeploeg noted the 2022 plan funds the next phase of the test bed initiative, or TBI, which is studying an alternative to vitrification for low-level waste – grouting. Grouting is a potentially less expensive way to address low-level tank waste, leaving the complex vit plant to handle high level waste.

Reeploeg said TRIDEC supports the grout approach if it is proven to be effective, particularly if Congress is reluctant to fund vitrification.

“One of the things on our minds is the long-term costs for cleanup and making sure it is actually done,” Reeploeg said. “Part of that is going to depend on budgets. It is not easy to figure out how to accomplish the cleanup mission at a cost we can expect to be funded.”

Priorities for 2023 include design work for treating high-level waste through vitrification and addressing aging infrastructure on the site, now in its eighth decade. As the cleanup mission evolves, the site’s utilities, roads and other facilities need to be updated and modernized.

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