Nuclear waste proposal would create decades-long Hanford fix

Strong bipartisan support has been shown in the U.S. House for a major clean-up and relocation program for nuclear waste stored at Hanford.

Legislation in process for over a year supported by Second District U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) would create a permanent waste storage site, likely in Nevada. The House Energy Committee which he chairs had voted 49-4 for the legislation and it passed Thursday on the House floor, 340-72.

Walden said the funding would pay for “a permanent site for commercial and military and do so in an expedited way.

“With the big bi-partisan vote, the House in a fairly partisan time came together very united to do this,” he said in a telephone news conference on Thursday.

A fix, but not an immediate one; Walden noted that if bill goes through, “It would restart the process to certify the facility for permanent storage and that will take years. We know this has a long timeline, but you have to get it started.”

The full cost has yet to be determined, but the total estimate is $100 billion over 100 years, with start of the actual removal of waste happening over the next 30 years.

Walden called it “a big win for the country and for us in the Northwest, it helps us move forward and eventually rid the Northwest of waste and all that is at Hanford. It’s a big day and a big bi-partisan win.

“I grew up in The Dalles and Hood River, and remember reading stories about what had happened at Hanford; sometimes we learned the government not fully forthcoming at all times,” Walden said. He said the federal government has fees from energy ratepayers for decades that were supposedly dedicated to Hanford cleanup but had been diverted to other programs. This totals $40 billion nationally, with $160 million by Oregon ratepayers.

“The real troubling part of this is Congress promised ratepayers if they pay the fee, the government would provide a permanent site, but the government used funds for others, and no site was created,” Walden said. “Every year this drags on, taxpayers are paying for interim storage at 121 sites, paying in penalty phase if you will,” Walden said.

“Oregonians have been on the hook, and now after a judge stepped in and put a stop to the fees, and the utilities came back and said ‘ratepayers are paying in, and that’s wrong, you owe us’,” Walden explained.

Walden said he does not expect the Senate to take up the legislation until after the November election.

“The strategy was to get a big vote in the House so we send a really strong message,” he said. The legislation has the support so far of building trade and transportation unions and the AFLCIO.

He acknowledged the resistance coming from the State of Nevada, but noted that Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted for it.

“As a country we have to say, ‘what’s the best thing for the nation?” Walden said.

“In today’s world, with 121 sites (storing nuclear waste), there is a recognition for national security and long term security that it would be much better to have it in one location, and we will tell them, ‘Nevada you’re going to be okay,’” Walden said. “There are things prescribed in legislation to address issues they care about.”

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