Cantwell Presses DOE’s Moniz on Cuts to Hanford Cleanup Funds

Moniz Commits to Working through Richland Budget Issues

March 3, 2016

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) questioned  Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on the nearly $190 million cut in funding for Hanford cleanup in the president’s fiscal year 2017 budget request.

At a committee hearing, Sen. Cantwell noted that “the Energy Department’s Richland Office has done an incredible job of decontaminating, demolishing, removing waste and remediating the river corridor.”

To date, the Richland Office and its partners have decontaminated and demolished 324 of 332 buildings, moved 11.5 million tons of hazardous waste away from the Columbia River, remediated 574 of the 580 waste sites along the river and completed all regulatory milestones on-time or ahead-of-schedule.

Sen. Cantwell went on to express her frustration that the Richland Office “is a victim of its own success, especially judging by the more than $190 million proposed cuts to its budget for fiscal year 2017. The Tri-Cities community and I view this as the most significant risk to the public in the area.”

The decrease in the administration’s budget request would slow the continued progress of technically demanding remediation and expensive infrastructure maintenance. When asked, Secretary Moniz committed to working with Sens. Cantwell and Murray on the Richland budget levels.

Separately, Sen. Cantwell asked Secretary Moniz about continued progress in developing a disposal pathway for Hanford’s defense waste, which differs in technical respects from waste generated by commercial nuclear reactors. In October 2014, DOE issued a report that recommended decoupling defense waste from commercial waste by implementing a phased, adaptive and consent-based strategy – a recommendation also supported by the findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future and the National Academies of Sciences.

In March 2015, the administration issued a presidential memorandum allowing DOE to proceed with a defense waste repository. Currently pending is a request for information from the public for all elements of the back end of the fuel cycle. Sen. Cantwell asked Secretary Moniz about the progress of the implementation process and the timeline. Secretary Moniz responded: “We’re going through a three-phase process this year, and the hope is that in the first quarter of fiscal year 2017, we would be able to start direct discussion with communities, states and regions.”

The hearing also provided the opportunity to ask Secretary Moniz about the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. More than 70 years ago, Hanford, Wash., was selected to be part of the Manhattan Project as a nuclear reactor site in 1943. The historic B-Reactor was the first full-scale nuclear reactor ever built and it took just 11 months to be constructed.

For more than a decade, the Department of Energy and National Park Service, in cooperation with other federal agencies, state and local governments, and other stakeholders, pursued the possibility of including the department’s most significant Manhattan Project properties within a Manhattan Project national park. After more than 11 years of advocacy from Sen. Cantwell, the Hanford site became part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in November 2015.

The fiscal year 2017 budget request does not include allocated funding for the park. When asked, Secretary Moniz explained that DOE has the funds for park infrastructure for fiscal year 2016, and that “there’s no explicit budget line in fiscal year 2017 for DOE, but we have the funds to keep moving towards making available the sites.” However, Secretary Moniz noted, “I would be very surprised if we didn’t need to come for explicit funding for the maintenance and upgrade for the public of certain facilities at the three sites” in future years. Sen. Cantwell told Secretary Moniz she would like to work with him to develop a long-term strategy for funding this important national park and to ensure an enduring partnership between DOE and the Department of the Interior, as the Manhattan Project National Historical Park moves forward.
# # #