Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) used a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday to question Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm on why the Joe Biden administration’s $7.6-billion budget request for nuclear cleanup trims funding for the Hanford Site during fiscal 2022.
The White House has proposed to split about $2.47 billion between Hanford’s two operating offices for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, about $100 million less than the site-wide appropriation for the former plutonium production complex in fiscal 2021.
The president’s budget “is about $900 million short” on what is needed to keep pace with long-term milestones under the Tri-Party Agreement between the state, DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency, Cantwell said. The state’s junior senator said this is based on what she has learned “internally from DOE people at Hanford.”
As for the dip in Hanford funding, DOE contractors have nearly finished building direct-feed low activity waste equipment at the new vitrification plant that should start converting low-activity tank waste into a glass form by the end of 2023, Granholm said. “There was a reduction in the budget for the construction aspect of it,” the energy secretary said.
More broadly, Granholm said, “we are still in negotiation on the high-level waste with the state of Washington,” referring to ongoing talks about Tri-Party milestones at the site. “So, when those negotiations are finished, I look forward to coming back to you and seeing what we also need to add to the budget to account for those negotiations.”
“I’ll take that for today,” Cantwell said.
Back in September 2019, Hanford’s site manager could not say with certainty that DOE would meet a legally binding 2036 deadline for startup of the high-level waste vitrification operation. That was months before the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the hearing, Granholm declined to comment on the ongoing tri-party negotiations. “Well, we are in the process of negotiating with the state right now. So, when we are finished with that, I will let you know,” she said in response to a Weapons Complex Monitor question.
The Washington state Department of Ecology has said it plans to stick with the talks at least through the end of June.
Nothing in Lieu of Payments?
During the hearing, Cantwell said she was disappointed to see the Biden administration eliminate payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) at both the Hanford Site and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. “Many Washingtonians were also upset” at the loss of the PILT money that helps finance roads and school programs around DOE nuclear sites, Cantwell said.
Separately, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said via Twitter Tuesday he plans to work with Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the Democratic Party whip for the House of Representatives, along with South Carolina’s senators, both Republicans, to help restore PILT funding in the budget for Aiken, Barnwell and Allendale counties that surround the Savannah River Site.
“Once again the President’s Budget has been delivered to Congress without payment in lieu of taxes (PiLT) for the Savannah River Site,” Wilson said. “With the Site continuing to grow with new missions, taking money out of the local school districts will have a direct impact on the future workforce needs of the site,” he added.
‘Yucca is Not the Answer’
Also at the hearing, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) told Granholm that she was pleased DOE hadn’t requested funding for the moribund Yucca Mountain geologic repository located in Nye County, Nev.
“I’m glad the Biden admin and I agree that Yucca Mountain is not the answer to our nation’s nuclear waste storage problem,” Cortez Masto said via Twitter after the hearing. “Today, when I pressed this issue with @SecGranholm, she confirmed “Yucca Mountain is NOT the solution.”
“If we’re going to go down the clean energy path with nuclear power, we have to address the issue with the waste that is out there,” Cortez Masto said, “and Yucca Mountain is not the answer.”
The Biden administration’s $46-billion fiscal 2022 budget request for the entire department is 16.6% greater than the $39.6-billion DOE budget enacted by Congress for fiscal 2021.
A markup of the fiscal 2022 spending plan has been set for July 12 by the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Development subcommittee.
Staff Reporter Benjamin S. Weiss contributed to this story from Washington.