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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington Congress members worry Trump budget would cut Hanford cleanup

In this Tuesday, May 9, 2017, file photo, signs are posted by the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Benton County in Richland. (Manuel Valdes / Associated Press)

Even before reports of President Donald Trump’s budget suggested significant cuts in energy programs, Washington members of Congress warned about slashing cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

In a letter, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse, whose district includes the reservation, urged Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Friday to “fulfill the federal government’s legal and moral obligations” at Hanford.

The recent collapse of a tunnel near a closed facility that once made the material for the nation’s nuclear warheads shows the need to continue cleanup at Hanford, the members of Congress wrote. The letter was sent before the reservation reported a second potential cleanup problem, a possible leak in a double-walled tank storing nuclear waste.

“Strong and predictable funding is critical to continued cleanup progress,” the three wrote.

A spokeswoman for Murray said Monday that Congress won’t see the numbers in the budget until Tuesday morning, but reports of advance information from the administration, as well as the budget overview released in March, suggest cuts in the U.S. Energy Department.

“She feels like she has to educate every new administration – Democrat and Republican – about the importance of Hanford cleanup,” Kerry Arndt said.

Earlier this year, all 12 members of the state’s congressional delegation signed a letter to then President-elect Trump, outlining the ongoing efforts to clean up decades of waste from World War II and Cold War weapons production. The recently approved spending bill that takes the country to the end of this fiscal year has some $2.3 billion for Hanford cleanup, about $100 million more than last year’s budget request from the Obama administration.

The possible leak in the underground tank, which would have the potential of entering the aquifer and eventually reaching the Columbia River, means federal leaders must continue providing money for the Office of River Protection, they said in a news release announcing the letter. That office is responsible for treating some 54 million gallons of waste stored in 177 underground tanks.

On Friday, Hanford workers reported that a robotic inspection device had been checking the space between the inner and outer wall of tank AZ-101 and was contaminated with nuclear material when it was removed.

The tank holds some 800,000 gallons of nuclear waste. Further tests are required to determine whether that contamination comes from a leak or another source, said Randy Bradbury of the state Department of Ecology.

Another double-shelled tank in the area, AY-102, developed a leak in its inner wall last year and had to be emptied to ensure the waste would not leak through the outer wall and make its way to the aquifer.