Nuclear cleanup at Hanford is a top priority

And federal officials must allocate funds accordingly. Nuclear waste is leaking toward the Columbia River.

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Nuclear waste cleanup at Hanford has been, as it should be, a national priority for decades.

Why then hasn't there been more progress in actually cleaning up the nuclear waste? Well, the necessary funding to get the job moving along -- despite the rhetoric -- never seems to gain full approval from federal officials.

Since it doesn't appear there's a disaster looming within the next few years, officials seem to lose their focus.

This can't continue. Action is needed or there will be a disaster when the nuclear waste makes its way to the groundwater or the Columbia River.

And U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., made that point recently when she criticized the Obama administration for not taking seriously its legal obligation to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The Tri-City Herald reported Murray said she had concerns with what Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu said when he answered questions about the Department of Energy's proposed fiscal 2012 budget at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee.

DOE has proposed 2012 budget increases for national nuclear security, science research and advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy but the budget for Hanford and other DOE environmental cleanup projects remains largely flat, even though that's the only area in which DOE has legal obligations, Murray said.

"It's disappointing," she said.

Yes, DOE is putting more money into the vitrification plant, which when completed will be used to turn nuclear waste into inert glass logs that can be safely buried, but it is decreasing funding for some of its other Hanford obligations.

The Hanford Richland Operations Office, which is responsible for the rest of Hanford environmental cleanup, would see a budget decrease of 7 percent, in the proposed 2012 budget.

The president proposed increases in DOE money for nuclear security and for research and development to position the United States for future prosperity, Chu said.

We don't doubt this is important. However, if the Hanford cleanup is allowed to drag on a crisis will result.

"It is a legal obligation. It is a moral obligation. It is a real obligation," Murray said. "We have waste at the nuclear facility that is leaking toward the Columbia River."

Exactly. The nuclear waste at Hanford -- about 70 percent of the nation's nuclear waste -- is there because that's where the material was made for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II. The nuclear waste then and during the Cold War was created on behalf of the entire nation, and that nation has a responsibility to clean up this nuclear mess.

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