Committee approves DOE budget request for Hanford

A Department of Energy request that could prevent furloughs at the Hanford vitrification plant has received the final congressional committee approval it needed.

Changes in funding levels requested by DOE still must go through an administrative process that starts with the Office of Management and Budget before Hanford contractors may make changes.

DOE had requested that federal money available this fiscal year for environmental cleanup be moved among and within its sites.

Four House and Senate committees agreed that at Hanford, $115 million budgeted for the vitrification plant’s Pretreatment Facility could be moved to other vit plant buildings under construction. Construction is on hold at the Pretreatment Facility until technical issues are resolved.

With more money to spend on construction elsewhere at the plant, Bechtel National may be able to avoid a furlough, or required time off for workers, this summer. It had warned workers that it might have to shut the project down for two weeks because of lack of money for work ready to be done.

In addition, $46 million would be transferred from the vitrification plant budget to the Hanford tank farms, which hold 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in underground tanks.

Congress had planned to return spending at the vitrification plant to an annual budget of $690 million, but then did not pass a budget for the current year. Instead, spending was rolled over in a continuing resolution at the previous year’s level of $740 million. The $46 million is the approximate difference between those two amounts, after sequestration, the automatic budget reduction required this year.

About $2 million that had been sent to the Idaho nuclear site also would be paid back to Hanford, bringing the total additional money for the tank farms to $48 million.

DOE faces a court-enforced consent decree to have all the waste in the 16 single-shell tanks in the group called C Tank Farm emptied into double-shell tanks that better protect the environment in 2014. The $48 million would support the removal of waste from five tanks, helping avoid the potential for significant fines and penalties, according to DOE’s reprogramming request.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., have worked to make sure that Hanford does not lose money to other DOE sites under the reprogramming request and that money for Hanford is shifted to the projects that need it most.