Inslee: Feds must increase nuclear waste cleanup funds

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who recently criticized the slow pace of cleanup at the Hanford nuclear stockpile, toured the former nuclear weapons production site on Thursday and said more Federal money was needed to complete the job.

Hanford created more than two-thirds of the nation’s plutonium for nuclear weapons, including the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan at the end of World War II. There remained the most contaminated nuclear site in the country.

Inslee wants the Biden administration to request $3.76 billion for the Hanford cleanup in fiscal year 2024, up from its current request of $2.52 billion for fiscal year 2023. The $3.76 billion dollars would help meet legal obligations, including court-ordered cleanup deadlines.

“We need the federal government to step in and do its job,” Inslee said Thursday. “It’s a matter of environmental justice.”

Much of the waste is stored in 177 aging underground reservoirs, some of which are leaking.

The 580 square mile (1,500 square kilometer) Hanford site is located near Richland in south-central Washington state.

In a May letter to the director of Biden’s White House Office of Management and Budget, Inslee wrote that Hanford’s budgets need to be much higher to avert disaster, meet legal obligations and prevent the cleanup from happening. continue until 2178, if not later.

“As the earliest possible date for cleanup continues to stretch farther into the future, the damage to surrounding communities and the danger of catastrophic impacts to the Pacific Northwest are occurring right now,” said Inslee, a Democrat, in the May 23 letter to OMB director Shalanda Young.

Worst-case scenario, the Hanford cleanup may not be completed for 150 years, if ever, Inslee wrote.

He pointed out that Hanford’s old single-walled storage tanks are between 58 and 78 years old, which exceeds their expected lifespan of 20 to 30 years. At least two of these tanks are known to leak radioactive waste and other hazardous waste into the ground.

In addition. a tunnel storing highly contaminated equipment partially collapsed five years ago, and the collapse of a second waste storage tunnel was averted at great cost two years later, he wrote.

“If the idea of ​​investing in cleanup today isn’t acceptable, consider this – that the calamity comes in the form of radiation release, groundwater contamination reaching the Columbia River, of harmful exposures to workers on site, or whatever, the bill will eventually expire,” Inslee wrote.

Drawing on DOE data, Inslee said that even if the cleanup is adequately funded each year, the earliest cleanup would be completed in 2064, but it could stretch to 2178 or later, if it does. is a finished day.

Each year Hanford is underfunded adds 18 months to three years to the cleanup schedule as taxpayer dollars end up being spent maintaining aging facilities and responding to emergency infrastructure failures, he said. .

“The slower this pace, the more it’s going to cost American taxpayers,” Inslee said Thursday.

During a Senate subcommittee hearing in May, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm defended the administration’s latest budget request for Hanford, telling Democratic Washington Senator Patty Murray that it had to balance cleaning needs across all DOE sites. About a third of the nation’s defense-related environmental cleanup money goes to Hanford.

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Geranios reported from Spokane, Washington.

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