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Washington leaders concerned about proposed Hanford funding cut

The state's Department of Ecology says the Hanford nuclear sire cleanup has been underfunded for years.

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. — This week, Washington leaders raised concerns about the White House's proposed budgetary allocation for the Hanford nuclear site cleanup

In a Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Senator Patty Murray questioned U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm about the department's reasoning for the allocations. 

"It’s honestly just a question of balancing out what our numbers are across the whole environmental management portfolio," Granholm said Wednesday. 

Gov. Jay Inslee came out in opposition to the proposed allocations.

The Washington State Department of Ecology has been petitioning for more funding for the Hanford cleanup for years. In a statement Wednesday, the department wrote that "the ever-increasing budget deficit at Hanford continues to affect both the overall time needed to finish the job and increases the amount of money needed by billions. The time for adequate funding at Hanford is now."

The allocation in the president's proposed budget allocation was $2.52 billion for the fiscal year 2023, which is less than the 2022 congressional appropriation of $2.69 billion and under the fiscal year 2023 compliant request amount of $3.35 billion. 

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Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson said this isn't a partisan issue. Rather, cleanup has been underfunded by both parties for years.

"There is tremendous harm in continuing to kick the can down the road when it comes to the Hanford cleanup," Watson said. "It is the most complicated and one of the most contaminated sites in all of North America, and there's 56 million gallons of radioactive and toxic waste that are on the site in tanks that are well past their shelf life. We already have two tanks that are leaking on the Hanford site."

Watson said the site's proximity to the Columbia River means there's a risk waste will reach the river and impact not just the immediately surrounding communities, businesses, farmers, and tribal members, but also people who live downriver including in Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon.

"It's a tremendous risk to human health and environment to continue to kick the can down the road, but there's also just the risk of the cost snowballing," Watson said. "As things stand right now, we know to clean up the site this century it will cost over $100 billion dollars, but if we don't pay that up now, it's going cost twice as much if we let that cleanup go into next century."

In years past, several White House administrators have pitched lower allocations of funding for Hanford cleanup. Then, congressional officials, especially those from Washington state, pushed for increases and a number somewhere in the middle. 

"We've made substantial progress already at the site. It's not that we haven't made that progress," Watson said. "Next year, we will be turning nuclear waste into glass. That's a huge milestone. We have dismantled a number of the very contaminated, radioactive contaminated buildings on the site, including most recently the plutonium finishing plant."

Watson said while there's been substantial progress over the years, there is still significant work left to do, and adequate funding is essential to ensuring completion, human health and environmental safety.

In years past, the state's congressional delegation has typically worked to appropriate more funding that was allocated in presidents' proposed budgets. Advocates are hopeful that will come to pass this time, too. 

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