Patty in the News

WASHINGTON — The proposed Hanford budget for next year got a $50 million boost, thanks to the work of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Tuesday.

She also had planned to add money to allow work to continue to license Yucca Mountain, Nev., as a national repository for high-level radioactive waste. However, no amendments were allowed at the markup of the fiscal 2011 Department of Energy proposed budget before a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.

Instead, she plans to bring the amendment to a vote of the full Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

"I believe the Obama administration made a serious mistake when it zeroed out funding for Yucca Mountain," Murray said Tuesday at the 2011 budget markup before the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

Hanford's high-level radioactive waste had been expected to go to Yucca Mountain.

The increase added to the proposed Hanford budget for fiscal 2011 brings it to almost $2.2 billion. That is in addition to the $1.96 billion in economic stimulus money Murray fought for that will continue to be spent next year at Hanford on environmental cleanup work.

The additional $50 million for Hanford cleanup in the proposed budget is in addition to an increase in the Obama administration's budget proposal for Hanford for fiscal 2011. In total, the budget would include $56 million more than Hanford has in its annual budget now for environmental cleanup linked to the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

Not included in the numbers are savings in security next year and for work at the Fast Flux Test Facility, a research rather than a weapons reactor.

"In a budget year like what Sen. Murray is facing, this is amazing," said Gary Petersen, Tri-City Development Council vice president of Hanford programs. "The fact that she did that and got a plus up for the Waste Treatment Plant -- it's stunning work."

Murray worked to get an increase in spending for construction of the vitrification plant increased by $50 million when the Obama administration's budget proposal was released in February. She also got a $10 million increase added for work at the tank farms, where 53 million gallons of radioactive waste are held in underground tanks, some of them prone to leaks.

Some of that $60 million proposed increase in February was offset partially by cuts in other Hanford programs, which the $50 million added to the proposed Senate budget Tuesday more than offsets.

The $50 million includes $35 million for work to clean up contaminated ground water beneath Hanford and $15 million to speed up demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant in central Hanford.

"This is a big victory for cleanup at a time when budgets are stretched very thin," Murray said in a statement. "This is the kind of consistent budget we need each year to deliver on cleanup goals, keep workers on the job and honor the sacrifices of the Tri-Cities community."

The proposed federal budget appropriation level for fiscal 2011 has been set at $14 billion less than the administration's proposed budget in the Senate.

The budget will go before the full Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, the same meeting at which Murray plans to introduce her Yucca Mountain amendment.

"I know you've been a strong supporter of that program," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, subcommittee chairman, at the Tuesday markup.

Murray plans to propose reinstating $200 million to be used to continue DOE work to license Yucca Mountain. That amount would be offset by an across-the-board reduction for DOE of the same amount.

Proceeding with Yucca Mountain is opposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but Murray said, "I think it is very important we make the case."

DOE moved to withdraw its license application for Yucca Mountain from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but the NRC regulatory board found DOE lacked the authority to proceed. The NRC will consider the issue next.

In March, Murray pressed Energy Secretary Steven Chu for any scientific evidence that Yucca Mountain was unsuitable for a national repository during a congressional hearing. She told Chu then that she was dismayed that DOE had filed to permanently withdraw the licensing application.

- Tri-City Herald