Hanford Nuclear Cleanup Budget Slashed in Energy Proposal

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By Chuck McCutcheon

Washington state’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation, scene of a recent collapse of a tunnel containing nuclear waste, would see its funding slashed under President Donald Trump’s new budget proposal.

The May 23 release of the fiscal year 2018 budget for the Department of Energy, which follows Trump’s earlier “skinny budget,” drew praise from conservative Republicans for being fiscally responsible and criticism from those who want more funding for energy research and development and other programs. Given that many of the department’s programs are located in numerous areas of the country and enjoy bipartisan support, Congress is expected to restore many of the proposed cuts.

The Energy Department would sustain an overall 5.4 percent cut, or $1.7 billion—minor compared to most other Cabinet agencies—from the estimated funding levels Congress provided in fiscal 2017, according to White House Office of Management and Budget documents. The agency’s clean energy programs would bear the brunt of the cuts, with new funds funneled into the arm of the agency dealing with developing and safeguarding nuclear weapons.

“This budget delivers on the promise to reprioritize spending in order to carry out DOE’s core functions effectively and efficiently while also being fiscally responsible and respectful to the American taxpayer,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement.

But Ernest Moniz, Perry’s predecessor under former President Barack Obama, called the budget proposal “a retreat of American leadership on energy innovation, environmental protection and energy security.”

Trump’s budget blueprint calls for reducing cleanup at Hanford from $921 million to $716 million, a 22 percent reduction. That comes as the budget proposes to boost overall departmental defense-related environmental cleanup of materials from $5.28 billion to $5.54 billion.

Hanford Cleanup Needed

Washington state’s congressional delegation, including Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, long have pressed various administrations to commit to cleaning up Hanford. The site in eastern Washington has milllons of gallons of highly radioactive wastes stored in 177 aging underground tanks, some of which have leaked.

“Previous administrations and Congress have repeatedly supported the legal and moral obligation of the federal government to clean up the Hanford site, and we urge you to continue this important work to protect health and safety,” the two senators and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said in a May 19 letter to Perry.

The Hanford tunnel, containing radioactive wastes that were byproducts of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, partially collapsed on May 9, prompting nearby workers to evacuate. A worker’s clothing also was exposed to radioactive contamination in what Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) called an “alarming incident.”

Trump’s budget also calls for steep cuts to numerous other Energy programs:

  •  Basic energy sciences, which supports research to advance new energy technologies, would see a proposed cut from $1.84 billion to $1.55 billion.
  •  Biological and environmental research, which studies biological, earth and environmental systems for energy and infrastructure resilience and sustainability, would see a proposed cut from $608 million to $349 million.
  •  Energy effiency and renewable energy programs would receive a proposed $636 million, a decline of $1.4 billion. Subprograms dealing with weatherization of homes and state energy are proposed for elimination “to reduce federal intervention in state-level energy policy and implementation,” according to the department.
  •  Sustainable transportation programs, which conduct early-stage research and development on vehicle technologies, fuel cells and other energy innovations, would see a proposed cut from $659 million to $336 million. Within that, solar energy would be cut from $324 million to $134 million; wind energy from $145 million to $66 million; water power from $97 million to $44 million. Geothermal technologies would be sliced in half to $38 million.
  •  Fossil energy research, which supports research into coal, oil and other energy types that Trump has emphasized, would see a proposed cut from $631 million to $280 million. The budget seeks to consolidate the work for the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which does work in several states, into a single operational site.
  •  Cybersecurity for energy-delivery systems, which supports research on cutting-edge solutions to defend against cyber attacks, would see a proposed cut from $62 million to $42 million. The proposed budget adds $43 million for cybersecurity within the defense environmental cleanup program.

ARPA-E Cut Maintained

The proposed budget maintains the administration’s earlier call for cutting the Advanced Projects Research Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) office, which invests in early-stage, high-risk energy technologies that have potential to transform the nation’s energy system.

In addition, it maintains the “skinny budget” promise to eliminate the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which provides loans to automakers to help produce advanced-technology vehicles. The program’s loan office will wind down operations in fiscal 2018 with the expectation it will shut down the following fiscal year, according to an Office of Management and Budget document.

Similarly, it continues the call for eliminating the Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program, which funds high-risk technology that aims to avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants or greenhouse gases.

Trump’s blueprint also underscores the administration’s interest in reconsidering waste storage at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain site despite widespread objections from Nevada lawmakers. It proposes restarting the Nuclear Waste Fund Fee in 2020, an indication the administration is planning to have a permanent storage site for high-level spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants up and running by that time. The budget also separately includes a $30 million request for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart work on the site northeast of Las Vegas, which the Obama administration had mothballed.

Perry, in recent visits to several of the department’s national laboratories, has pledged to support much of their work. The proposed budget includes a boost from $620 million to $722 million for the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, which supports research in applied mathematics and computer science at such labs as Oak Ridge in Tennessee, Argonne in Illinois and Lawrence Berkeley in California.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chuck McCutcheon in Washington at cmccutcheon@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

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