Hanford Nuclear Update: $120 Million Budget Cut

May 24, 2017

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington made plutonium for nuclear weapons for years and has suffered with deadly waste cleanup ever since. The site's massive cleanup costs more than $2 billion a year and isn't expected to be completed until 2060.

Here's what is being cleaned up:

  • 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste left behind after decades of manufacturing plutonium for more than 60,000 nuclear weapons
  • 25 million cubic feet of solid radioactive waste
  • 200 square miles of contaminated groundwater beneath the site
  • More than 447,000 gallons of radioactive sludge stored in older tanks, six of which are leaking
  • Is the most contaminated nuclear site in the country, with two-thirds of the nations high-level radioactive waste by volume.

Despite almost three decades of remediation and clean up, the site continues to be a hazard.

On May 9 a 360-foot long rail tunnel built in 1956 to store eight railcars filled with radioactive waste collapsed, causing employees to evacuate while sirens sounded. The hole left after the cave in has been covered with a plastic sheet held down with cement blocks.

Last week, a robotic crawler inserted into the space between the two walls of Tank AZ-101 came out of the tank with unexpected radioactive contamination. Hanford officials are trying to determine the cause.

The Energy Department was warned in a 2015 report it commissioned that both tunnels were vulnerable to a collapse from an earthquake or deterioration of tunnel building materials caused by intense radiation.

None the less, the 2018 budget proposal released yesterday in Washington, DC cuts more than $120 million from the Department of Energy's Richland Operations Office which deals with many nuclear waste sites and facilities on the site and leaves spending nearly flat for the Office of River Protection  which deals specifically with the contents of 177 underground nuclear waste storage tanks that contain some of the most toxic wastes, according to the Associated Press.