President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has asked about the Hanford vitrification plant in a questionnaire circulated at the Department of Energy, along with questions about the work of national laboratories like Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
The questionnaire, which one unnamed Energy Department official called a hit list in an interview with The Associated Press, asked some unusual questions, including names of DOE and contractor employees who had attended international meetings on climate change during the past five years. Trump has called climate change a hoax.
The questionnaire includes five questions for the DOE Office of Environmental Management, which is responsible for Hanford cleanup.
It asks to describe alternatives to what it called the “ever-increasing” cost and schedule of the Hanford vitrification plant. The plant is being built to treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste held in underground tanks, some of them prone to leaking, in central Hanford.
Democrats and Republicans representing Oregon and Washington in Congress have called the cleanup of Hanford a moral obligation of the nation. The 580-square-mile nuclear reservation on the Columbia River has areas that are massively contaminated from producing plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program during World War II and the Cold War.
The vitrification plant is not expected to be fully operating for almost two more decades because of technical issues.
The cost of the delay, coupled with changes and additional facilities planned to allow some waste to be treated as soon as 2022, has yet to be announced by DOE. The last verified cost estimate of $12.2 billion was released in 2006, when the plan was to start operations in 2019.
The questionnaire asks about the greatest opportunities to reduce life-cycle costs across the DOE cleanup complex. At Hanford, the most recent estimate of remaining environmental cleanup costs through about 2060, plus some oversight through 2090, was about $108 billion.
In addition, it asks the Office of Environmental Management for a recommended funding level to make meaningful progress across the DOE cleanup complex, the office’s staffing plans and what program milestones might be met under the Trump administration.
The questionnaire also asks about plans to resume licensing the Yucca Mountain repository and any statutory restrictions to restarting the repository project. Hanford’s vitrified high level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel had long been expected to be sent to the planned Nevada repository before the Obama administration shut down the project.
The questions that potentially touch on the national lab in Richland cover a range of topics, just as the lab conducts a wide range of research for government agencies.
It asks, for example, about the goal of electrical grid modernization. “Is there some terminal point to this effort? Is its genesis statutory or something else?” the questionnaire asks.
PNNL not only conducts research on modernizing the electric grid, but co-leads DOE’s Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium.
PNNL also does research related to better understanding climate change.
Three PNNL scientists working on a project to better understand one aspect of climate change were recently named to the Clarivate Analytics list of the most highly cited researchers in the world.
The lab also is working on a range of clean energy projects, from making wind and solar power more practical with battery storage, to exploring ways to improve electric and hybrid vehicles.
Nine questions on the questionnaire are specific to national labs, including requests for lists of publications by lab staff during the past three years, current professional society membership of lab staff and any additional positions held by lab staff, such as on faculties and as consultants.
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