Arrow-right Camera


Hanford Cleanup: $48 Billion National Bill May Reach $230 Billion, According To Latest Doe Estimate

Without changes in its agreement with Washington state, the Department of Energy estimated Monday that cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation would cost almost $48.7 billion over the next 75 years.

Previous estimates for cleaning up the reservation in Washington state have ranged from $50 billion up to $100 billion. Congress has made no secret that it feels those costs were out of hand, and even the department has called for major changes in the cleanup agreement with the state.

Hanford may also no longer be the department’s most expensive site to clean up, as DOE estimated the cost to clean up the Savannah River nuclear weapons plant in South Carolina at virtually the same amount.

In a study entitled “Estimating the Cold War Mortgage,” the department put the cost of cleaning up all its defense production sites at $230 billion, but conceded even after spending that amount, hundreds of acres would remain off-limits because of radioactive contamination.

Reaching a so-called “green fields” level in which unlimited uses were allowed at every site would cost about $500 billion. Just stabilizing the wastes and walking away, the so-called “iron fence” solution, would cost about $170 billion.

Tom Grumbly, DOE’s assistant secretary for environmental restoration and waste management, said the study should provide an important baseline to Congress as it decides how much to cut the department’s cleanup budget. Grumbly warned that dropping to less than $170 billion would be a mistake.

“The risk of not appropriating the minimal amount of $170 billion is substantial,” Grumbly said, but added he thought that once Congress understood the hazards involved, a “goodly amount” would be forthcoming.

Grumbly said the study was the first ever “analytical, bottoms-up” review based on estimates provided by each site.

“You are seeing the unvarnished truth as people on the firing line projected it,” he said. “Any other estimates you have seen were gross-global estimates from the top down.”

Under the new estimates, Hanford would cost almost $48.7 billion to clean up, and Savannah River about $48.2 billion. Previously, Hanford was considered by far and away the most expensive site to clean up, but the costs at Savannah River have grown.

The cost at Hanford represented about 21 percent of the $230 billion baseline estimate. Savannah River’s costs were also about 21 percent of the total, followed by Rocky Flats at 10 percent, Oak Ridge at 10 percent and the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory at 10 percent.

The $48.7 billion estimated cost at Hanford was based on the current cleanup plan, which among other things calls for removing old production reactors along the Columbia River, building a vitrification plant, and vitrification of all high-level tank wastes by 2035. Except for some areas in Hanford 200 area, most of the reservation would be cleaned up for unrestricted land use.

The $48 billion price tag does not include the billions already spent at Hanford or the cost of ground-water cleanup, which could be substantial.

The estimate was also based on completion of a long-term disposal facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, for the vitrified waste from Hanford and elsewhere.

The Richland Operations Office had originally estimated cleanup costs at about $73 billion. That was cut to $48.7 billion, because DOE expects a 20 percent increase in productivity between now and the year 2000, and a 1 percent increase every year after that.

“A big part of the productivity increase is finding the right size work force,” Grumbly said.

The estimates also were based on using existing technology to do the cleanup at Hanford and elsewhere.

Grumbly said the nation and Congress now have to decide how much cleanup they want to buy.

At $230 billion, Grumbly said “it’s larger than the amount spent on the Apollo space program. It’s comparable to what it cost to build the weapons complex.”

Jim Werner, who headed up the study team for DOE, said about 90 percent of the cleanup costs would come in the first 40 years. Currently, the department is spending about $6 billion annually, with Congress prepared to make dramatic cuts.

Under the $230 billion baseline estimate, annual funding would gradually decrease from almost $7 billion in 2000 to $5 billion in 2010, less than $4 billion in 2020, less than $3 billion in 2030 and about $2 billion in 2040.

“Land use is by far the most important factor affecting costs,” Werner said. “Land use is where we need to have the debate.”

The report was requested by Congress.