Our Voice: Robbing Peter to pay Paul bad for Hanford cleanup

The Department of Energy’s budget is increasing.

That should be a good thing for Hanford.

But the Tri-City Development Council says it’s not because budget requests by the Obama administration for environmental cleanup of nuclear weapons sites specifically have decreased.

While the proposed budget has an upside for the vitrification plant and more protections for workers from chemical vapors, TRIDEC fears the environmental cleanup along the river corridor will suffer if the cuts of almost $100 million to DOE’s Richland Operations Office are enacted.

That kind of funding decline would “ … literally stop several of the high-priority risk reduction projects underway along the Columbia River,” according to TRIDEC’s letter to members of our state’s congressional delegation.

TRIDEC says it understands the government has obligations for DOE projects other than Hanford, but that taking money from one ongoing effort to fund another is not the solution.

Instead, the department should be celebrating the work it has accomplished at Hanford and continuing the momentum. Because the budget cut would delay the completion of several projects along the river, cleanup would cost taxpayers more in the end.

So close but yet so far is the feeling we get when cuts come into play for cleanup efforts.

Of the 331 buildings set to be decontaminated and demolished under contractor Washington Closure Hanford, only

10 remain. And a whopping

10.9 million tons of hazardous waste has been moved away from the Columbia River.

A lot has been done, but it’s not finished. And our government is supposed to be committed to the long-term cleanup of the mess it made here.

TRIDEC wants another

$119.5 million for the 2016 budget for the Richland Operations Office, the agency tasked with all operations at Hanford except the tank farms and vit plant.

A large chunk of that would go toward the 324 Building, a site found to have a highly radioactive spill underneath it that required extending the deadline and much more extensive work at the site. If there is no money for that cleanup now, taxpayers will have to spend

$5 million a year to keep the site safe and secure, plus the cost of continuing repairs.

Along with the funds needed to continue and complete the task of cleanup, TRIDEC also has an eye to the future, with a $5 million request to support the development of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park at Hanford.

The federal government has the responsibility to clean up the waste from nuclear defense sites. But the work can’t be done without the funding. The government needs to re-examine its budget priorities and keep work at Hanford on track.