Rep. Newhouse Questions U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz on Hanford Cleanup Budget and Yucca Mountain

February 25, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a House Science, Space & Technology Committee hearing titled, An Overview of the Budget Proposal for the Department of Energy for Fiscal Year 2016, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) questioned U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on the Energy Department’s budget request for Hanford cleanup and how the request deals with permanent waste storage at Yucca Mountain:




REP. DAN NEWHOUSE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you Mr. Secretary for being here with us. Hanford is in my district, and like many people in the rest of the country, we were very proud to be able to contribute to winning World War II, winning the Cold War. But as we move forward with these exciting new technologies that we’ve talked about this morning, it’s very important for us not to forget the federal government’s obligation and responsibility to clean up the legacy of those efforts. I am pleased to hear your comments along those lines earlier in your statement. But having said that, I am concerned…about the potential impacts of the Administration’s proposed hundred-million dollar cut to the Richland Operations Office, particularly on cleanup work along the river corridor. Delays to this work, and I’ve seen this firsthand, would result in higher project costs, missed milestones, and loss of cleanup momentum. The budget I believe cites technical reasons for the delays to the Columbia River Corridor cleanup—could you explain those technical reasons why work can’t continue particularly at the 324 Building as well as at the 618-10 site? And barring any technical reasons, is the Department of Energy committed to continuing this work in Fiscal Year 2015 with funding appropriated for this purpose and in Fiscal Year 2016 in order to meet existing legal milestones along the river corridor?

SECRETARY MONIZ: So, first of all, let me just say that…Hanford [and] the Tri-Cities really is a very important and has been a really important community for the Department of Energy for a long time, and it is our responsibility to respond to the cleanup challenge. I might add to that as an aside—and also to the science opportunities, for example, the Pacific Northwest Laboratory for example, which, today is celebrating its 50th Anniversary—maybe you will be there at the celebration.

REP. DAN NEWHOUSE: I hope to see you there.

SECRETARY MONIZ: Ok, yes I will see you there. So, going back to the cleanup, as you well know, and I do want to start out by emphasizing that, you know, within a pretty constrained budget the overall site budget will be going up a hundred million dollars in our proposal as we advance with the WTP project where our aim is to be able to start vitrifying at least the low activity waste very, very early in the next decade, like 2021, 2022. In terms of the Richland…budget, the, first of all, again as you know, we have made very substantial progress on the river corridor cleanup and, in fact, in providing now access to a substantial part of that corridor. Secondly, with the Richland budget, we’ll certainly be continuing aggressively with things like the groundwater pumping, you know, chromium treatment, etc. We also are making tremendous progress, for example, it wasn’t long ago that the highest risk facility was viewed as the plutonium finishing plant, and we are getting that down to grade. So I think overall the site will have an increased budget, and I think we’ll make very very credible progress in both parts of the program.

REP. DAN NEWHOUSE: So that gives me a good segue into my next question: the WTP, the vitrification plant. Certainly, the intention is for that glassified waste to go to a repository—permanent repository—Yucca Mountain, that’s been in sight for many years. Could you tell me the scientific reasoning why Hanford’s waste cannot go to Yucca Mountain? And if so, how does the Administration’s budget request propose to deal with the waste and by what deadline?

SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, first of all—that’s actually a very interesting question for a reason I’ll come to. The, first of all, scientifically, there’s long been the statement that civilian spent fuel and high level waste such as that from Hanford could certainly go to the same geological repository. That’s been the assumption all along, and we are working on three different geologies for geological repository within the framework, as I said earlier, I just don’t think Yucca Mountain is a workable solution. We just need to have a consent-based approach. So we’re working on that. But, let me note as well, something that has not been reached for a full decision yet, and that is that at the recommendation of the Blue Ribbon commission the Department carried out, and we have posted on our website back in October or November a technical report on the issue of whether the high level defense waste should be treated separately from commercial spent fuel. There were a variety of reasons for that—the report details them. Among them is the fact that the high level waste has many, many different forms and might have specialized approaches. One, which is in our FY ‘16 budget, is to advance not with nuclear waste yet, but to advance what is called a deep borehole demonstration project. That, ultimately, could be very interesting for Hanford because about a third of the activity at the site, cesium strontium capsules, which are very small in diameter, and could be very well suited perhaps for much earlier disposal through a borehole approach. I don’t know. We have to drill—we have to do the demonstration project, do the science, which is what we want to do in 2016. So that’s another interesting direction that could be very material for Hanford. We’d be happy to discuss that more with you if you would like.