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Budget cuts Hanford funds

Shannon Dininny Associated Press

YAKIMA – Money spent to clean up the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site would fall by about $36.5 million overall under the Bush administration’s proposed budget, putting some legal cleanup deadlines in jeopardy.

The proposal drew complaints Monday from Northwest lawmakers and the Washington governor.

For the 2009 budget year beginning Oct. 1, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation would receive $1.916 billion for cleanup, down from $1.953 billion in 2008. The proposed budget includes full spending, $690 million, to continue construction of a massive waste treatment plant that has long been considered the cornerstone of site cleanup, but it cuts money for cleaning up the Columbia River corridor and digging up buried waste.

The U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees cleanup of the 586-square-mile site, and the state have been in negotiations for months about legal cleanup deadlines that may be missed as a result of budget cuts and technical problems. The Energy Department cited at least eight deadlines that could be missed as a result of the budget.

“This budget, if passed into law, will further delay a cleanup that is already behind schedule,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement. “I am extremely concerned that this budget puts our citizens and the Columbia River at risk.”

The proposed Bush budget continues spending at a previously committed level of $690 million per year for the vitrification plant to turn radioactive waste into glasslike logs for permanent disposal underground. Garnering federal money for the plant has been a struggle in recent years amid skyrocketing costs and construction problems.

The Energy Department has already said it can’t meet the legal operating deadline of 2011 for the plant, saying it will be up and running in 2019.

Overall, the proposed budget would give the Energy Department $978 million toward building the plant and emptying underground tanks of toxic and radioactive waste, up from $970 million in 2008 and $976 million in 2007. The increased money would be spent on a system to treat less-radioactive waste.

The Energy Department’s Richland Operations Office, which oversees all other cleanup at the site, would see its budget fall from $983 million in 2008 to $938 million. The office’s 2007 budget was $944 million.

Significantly more money would be spent on groundwater cleanup in 2009: nearly $170 million, up from about $87 million in 2007 and $105 million in 2008. The biggest cuts would be to the river corridor project – nearly $58 million to $165 million – as well as to work to retrieve buried waste, from $242 million in 2008 to $176 million in 2009.

“Instead of sending the critical dollars needed to meet our federal commitment to Hanford cleanup, the President’s budget sends mixed messages,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement. “The people of the Tri-Cities sacrificed for the strength and safety of our nation and it is a national obligation to clean up the waste.”

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