Nearly 250 laid off at Wash. Hanford nuclear site

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm •  Published: March 19, 2013

"We can't afford to lose that highly trained workforce on such an important mission as nuclear waste cleanup," he said.

In terms of environmental damage, state and federal officials already are wrestling with six leaking underground waste tanks at the site, raising concerns about any delays to emptying them.

There are 177 tanks holding millions of gallons of toxic, radioactive waste. Sixty-seven of the 149 tanks that have just a single wall are known to have leaked in the past, but only 10 of those tanks have been emptied so far.

State officials already had concerns that upcoming deadlines for emptying more tanks in 2014 might not be met, thanks to technical problems and limited storage space in the remaining tanks with double walls, said Dieter Bohrmann, spokesman for the state Department of Ecology.

But any changes to those deadlines will require negotiations between the Energy Department, the state and the Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

Federal officials have proposed a plan to ship waste from five of the six leaking tanks to New Mexico. However, that proposal will take at least two years as the federal government seeks necessary permits.

The Department of Energy's Office of River Protection, which oversees tank cleanup and plant construction, said its budget had been cut by $92 million. That money will largely come from tank cleanup. There is a fixed budget for the plant.

The Energy Department's Richland Operations Office said its budget will be reduced by $79 million. That office oversees three contractors and numerous subcontractors responsible for cleaning up the Columbia River corridor, tearing down buildings, mothballing nuclear reactors, treating groundwater and digging up contaminated debris and soil.

The cuts within the Energy Department's budget are the result of debate in Congress, where Republicans and President Barack Obama are fighting over how to curtail the nation's debt.