Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hanford cleanup costs triple. And that’s the ‘best case scenario’ in a new report

This May 13, 2017  photo shows a portion of the Plutonium Finishing Plant on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Wash. (Nicholas K. Geranios / Associated Press)
By Annette Cary Tri-City Herald

The expected cost to finish cleaning up the Hanford nuclear reservation has tripled in three years, and that’s under the best case scenario, according to a Department of Energy report released Friday.

The report put remaining cleanup costs at $323.2 billion at best. At worst it could be $677 billion.

The cost estimates were included in the first Hanford Lifecycle Scope, Schedule and Cost Report to be released in three years. In the last report in 2016 the estimate was $107.7 billion.

“The findings of this report, and the developments on which it is based, show that a new approach is needed for the mission at Hanford,” DOE said in a statement.

“These increases have been years in the making and, while not unexpected, the implications are clear,” DOE said.

Estimates also have been extended on how long cleanup will need to continue at the 580-square-mile site in Eastern Washington state.

The assumptions included in the $233 billion estimate would require peak annual spending of nearly $9 billion a year, with cleanup continuing until 2079.

The high estimate would drag out cleanup to about 2102 and spending would peak at $16 billion a year.

The 2016 lifecycle report estimated that cleanup would wrap up in 2066 and peak annual spending would be about $3.5 billion.

This year the nation is spending about $2.5 billion on managing and cleaning up the Hanford site.

It is massively contaminated with radioactive and hazardous chemical waste from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Tank waste drives up cost

Much of the increased cost in the latest lifecycle report is related to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in underground tanks. The tanks must be emptied, the tanks closed in place or removed, and then the waste must be treated for permanent disposal.

A $17 billion vitrification plant is being built to treat the waste, but technical and other issues have made the project fall years behind schedule since construction began in 2002.

DOE is required by the legally binding Tri-Party Agreement to produce an annual lifecycle cost and schedule report.

But the Hanford regulators and other two parties to the agreement, the Washington state Department of Ecology and Environmental Protection Agency, have agreed to let DOE to skip the report for two years.

They questioned whether doing the report would be a good use of resources, considering changes to work plans, deadline changes and extensions and particularly the need for a new estimate of the cost related to tank waste.

The new lifecycle report relies on estimates prepared with computer modeling of different scenarios and assumptions for the tank waste.

Different assumptions are modeled, such as how efficiently the vit plant will operate, and different scenarios are considered, such as different ratios of waste to glass in the glassified waste logs the plant will produce for disposal.

Some of the higher range estimates include a proposal of waiting until the entire vitrification plant is ready to operate in the 2030s before any waste is treated.

DOE has changed plans in recent years and proposed a revised plan to start treating the low-activity radioactive portion of the tank waste by 2023. The plant is required to be fully operating, including treating high level waste by 2036.

The increase in costs for the tank waste treatment and disposition increases from an estimate of $53.5 billion in 2016 to a range of $221.4 billion to $518.1 billion in the report released Friday.

Other expenses also increase.

For example, the cost of sitewide services, such as utilities, information technology and security, increases from $9 billion in the previous report to a range of $20.4 billion to $32.8 billion in the most recent report as Hanford cleanup is expected to take longer.

The cost of groundwater and contaminated soil cleanup increases from around $6 billion in 2016 to about $10 billion in the latest report.

DOE will use information in the new lifecycle cost report “as it continues to work in a collaborative manner with the state of Washington, members of Congress, and local stakeholders to get waste out of Hanford’s tanks and disposed of sooner and safer,” DOE said.

The report released Friday followed both a Government Accountability Office report released this week on increasing costs across the DOE cleanup complex and a DOE financial report that showed rising costs to complete cleanup.