Budget cuts could slow nuclear waste cleanup at Hanford, INL

Cleanup of radioactive waste at nuclear sites across the country – including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the Idaho National Laboratory – would be delayed under automatic spending cuts set to take effect Friday.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the cuts would delay work at the department’s highest-risk sites, including Hanford , where six tanks are leaking radioactive waste left over from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons. Energy Department officials say that it was not clear whether cleanup of the leaking tanks would be affected by the spending cuts, though overall cleanup efforts at Hanford would be curtailed.

Other high-risk sites facing work delays are the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The Energy Department is facing an estimated $1.9 billion in spending cuts, including $900 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration. That agency is responsible for maintaining and securing the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

The agency’s acting administrator said more than 5,000 private contractors and about 1,800 agency workers could be furloughed under the program cuts, which are scheduled to take effect Friday unless the White House and Congress can come to a budget agreement.  (AP)

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