The Department of Energy’s two Hanford offices would remain separate at least through 2024 under the defense spending authorization act approved by the U.S. House.
The offices oversee the work of more than 9,000 workers cleaning up the radiological and chemical contamination left at the nuclear reservation from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
In 1998, former Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., created the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection to bring focused attention to one of the nuclear reservation’s most complex issues – 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks, some of them leaking or prone to leaks.
The office’s responsibilities include the $17 billion vitrification plant that has been under construction since 2002. It’s meant to provide a way to contain the waste in a stable glass form for disposal.
Other environmental cleanup work and the operation of the site – including utilities, roadwork and information technology – are the responsibility of the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., inserted an amendment in the defense authorization bill for 2019 that would continue to keep the offices separate until at least 2024.
The provision for separate offices was last renewed in 2011, also as part of the defense authorization bill.
Hanford officials have been combining some functions of the offices in recent years, such as a joint chief financial officer and some legal, security and infrastructure employees.
In addition, Richland Operations Office employees were moved starting in 2016 from the Federal Building in Richland to Stevens Center complex – where Office of River Protection employees work – to bring the two offices’ employees closer together.
Officials said in 2016 that DOE would be well-positioned if the two offices were recombined.
With much of the cleanup done along the Columbia River, much of the future cleanup work for both offices will be in the 75 square miles in the center of the 580-square-mile site.
Newhouse said that reauthorizing the Office of River Protection would help “keep federal cleanup efforts stable.”
The two offices receive separate funding, helping boost Hanford cleanup spending as money is split among the nation’s nuclear weapons cleanup sites.
Washington’s congressional delegation has fought to keep increases for the Office of River Protection from being paid for with decreases from the Richland Operations Office.
In the last administration funding request, a budget of $747 million was proposed for the Richland Operations Office and $1.4 billion for the Office of River Protection Office for fiscal 2019.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter