RICHLAND – The Department of Energy plans to spend about $2 billion in stimulus money to speed some of the cleanup at Washington’s highly contaminated Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Hanford will receive nearly one-third of the stimulus money announced Tuesday for environmental work at former World War II- and Cold War-era weapons sites in 12 states. Projects will focus on speeding cleanup of contaminated soil and groundwater, waste disposal and demolition of former weapons buildings.
The extra $2 billion equals what the federal government typically spends cleaning up Hanford each year.
“These investments will put Americans to work while cleaning up contamination from the Cold War era,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. “It reflects our commitment to future generations as well as to help local economies get moving again.”
Created as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb during World War II, Hanford has been a focus of extensive cleanup efforts for two decades. Today, it is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, with cleanup costs expected to top $50 billion.
Hanford produced plutonium for the world’s first atomic blast, the Trinity Test, and for the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, effectively ending World War II. The site continued to contribute to the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal throughout the Cold War.
The remnants of that effort, 53 million gallons of radioactive brew, were left behind in 177 underground tanks. Some of those tanks are known to have leaked into the aquifer, threatening the neighboring Columbia River, and 144 tanks remain to be emptied.
About $326 million of the stimulus money will be spent to speed the design and construction of systems to transfer that waste out of the tanks.
Roughly $1.6 billion will be spent to demolish nuclear facilities, remediate waste sites, retrieve waste from burial grounds and clean up contaminated groundwater. Particular focus will be on sites near the Columbia, one of the most important waterways in the Pacific Northwest.
That work is intended to shrink the active cleanup area of the 586-square-mile site to 75 square miles or less by 2015.
News of the stimulus money Tuesday allowed the Energy Department and its contractors to continue to employ 250 people who were set to be laid off, said Dave Brockman, manager of the Energy Department’s Richland Operations Office.
The Energy Department anticipates that roughly 4,000 jobs at Hanford will be created or saved with the stimulus money, he said.
“That’s a tremendous boost, both for our community and the cleanup of the site,” Brockman said.
The federal government already spends roughly $2 billion each year – about one-third of the total cleanup budget nationally – to rid the site of toxic and radioactive waste. But late last year, the Energy Department announced it would miss 23 cleanup deadlines in 2009 because there was insufficient money in the 2009 budget.
State and federal officials agreed in February to new deadlines for cleaning up groundwater and some radioactive waste areas, but a lawsuit continues over other missed deadlines.
“The recovery money is like getting an additional year of federal funding for Hanford cleanup,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “At a time that unemployment is up and families in the Tri-Cities are hurting, this is a much needed shot in the arm to the local economy.”
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