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Northwest Senators Question Energy Secretary On Hanford, Proposed Budget Cuts

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
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U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Northwest Senators had a lot of questions for U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry during a Senate committee hearing Tuesday morning. They grilled him on the safety of steel in a massive treatment plant under construction at the Hanford nuclear site.

As the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sen. Maria Cantwell said she wants the secretary to put money back in the budget for more research at national labs, and more money for cleanup at Hanford.  She said that President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would slash about $230 million dollars from the previous budget.

“It’s very important that we continue to make progress on the largest nuclear waste cleanup project in the world,” Cantwell said. “It is thorny, it is challenging. But we need consistent investment.”

Perry said he’s requesting a nearly 10 percent increase to the nation’s “nuclear deterrence” program. And he said he’s also asking for more money to clean up legacy wastes left at DOE sites across the country.

Later in the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said he has serious concerns with the Waste Treatment Plant, the massive factory being built at Hanford to treat millions of gallons of tank waste. A top Department of Energy manager at Hanford recently penned a strongly-worded letter that said the quality of the steel used in the factory has not been properly documented.


“The project director said that this was a potentially unrecoverable quality issue,” Wyden said. “Basically, what that means in English is that they couldn’t open the plant after billions of dollars had been spent and decades of effort if that was actually the case.”

That manager was recently transferred out of his job overseeing the plant. Wyden said he wants to talk with him without interference or consequences. Secretary Perry said he agreed.

Hanford is a 586-square-mile swath of desert land in southeast Washington state, with hundreds of radioactive waste sites that need cleaning up. Fifty-six million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste are sitting in underground tanks there.

Copyright 2018 Northwest News Network

Anna King loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network, a journalism collaboration of public radio stations in Washington and Oregon that includes JPR.