The Department of Energy is “on track” to start solidifying liquid radioactive waste at the Hanford Site in Washington state “no later than 2025,” the agency said in its latest budget request this week.
That timeline, less optimistic than the December 2023 goal the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management was targeting until a few months ago, aligns with a court-amended Consent Decree, according to the fiscal 2024 budget justification document for the agency’s Office of Environmental Management.
At a conference a few weeks ago in Phoenix, Brian Vance, DOE’s site manager for Hanford, acknowledged the agency will probably miss its goal to begin turning low-level radioactive tank waste, byproducts of plutonium production during the Cold War nuclear arms race, into glass by December 2023.
At the time, Vance said it was more likely that this activity, Direct-Feed-Low-Activity Waste operations, would begin in 2024 at Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.
In its budget request last year, DOE anticipated hot commissioning of the equipment needed to start turning the first low-level waste into glass could start as early as August 2023. In June 2022 DOE asked a federal court in the Eastern District of Washington state for an extension on making glass until Aug. 1,2025 to make up for time lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. The request was unopposed by the state and approved by the court the following month.
According to the budget document, Bechtel holds the Waste Treatment Plant construction contract, currently valued at $15 billion and set to expire on June 22, absent a DOE extension.
As for the high-level radioactive waste at Hanford, DOE said in its budget justification that the agency is analyzing alternatives for how best to provide tank waste feed to the High-Level Waste Facility. DOE is legally obliged to begin treating high-level waste by 2036, under a U.S. District Court consent order.
Hanford has about 56 million gallons of liquid waste, leftover from decades of plutonium production for the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
The White House has requested about $3 billion for Hanford out of the total $8.3 billion proposed for the DOE Office of Environmental Management.
The ultimate authority for the budget rests with Congress, and starts with the Republican-dominated House of Appropriations Committee.