Budget cuts threaten work at leaking nuke tanks

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RICHLAND — Washington’s governor prepared to travel to the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site to learn more about leaking radioactive waste tanks there today, a day after federal officials acknowledged budget cuts may disrupt efforts to empty the aging vessels.

South-central Washington’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation is home to 177 underground tanks, which hold toxic and radioactive waste left from decades of plutonium production for the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

The Energy Department recently found that six tanks at the site are leaking. And while state and federal officials have stressed that the leaks pose no immediate risk to public safety or the environment, Gov. Jay Inslee says Washington state has a “zero tolerance” policy for leaks.

Further complicating matters: Officials said Tuesday that federal budget cuts may slow cleanup efforts.

In a letter to Inslee, the Department of Energy estimated it will have to eliminate $92 million for its Office of River Protection, which oversees efforts to empty the tanks and build a plant to treat the waste. The cuts will result in furloughs or layoffs impacting about 2,800 contract workers, the agency said.

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