Governors of Washington State and Oregon and a host of other Pacific Northwest officials want nearly $4 billion in annual federal funding to clean up the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Hanford nuclear waste site in southeast Washington.

The request comes as the U.S. Government Accountability Office issues a new analysis that shows costs continuing to rise at the former nuclear weapons production site, but also potential project savings that still exist.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), along with officials from the Washington Dept. of Ecology,  Plumbers and Steamfitters union Local 598 and collection of local agencies and interest groups signed a letter sent to President Joe Biden requesting at least $3.76 billion for fiscal year 2024 to expedite cleanup of the 56 million gallons of hazardous and radioactive waste stored at the site in 177 underground storage tanks following decades of plutonium extraction.

The plan is to send the waste through the yet-to-open Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant that will use a vitrification process to turn it into glass for long-term storage. About 90% of the waste is classified as "low-activity" that can be directly fed into the plant, but the remaining higher level waste still lacks a viable treatment option.

The Biden administration revised its funding request for the Hanford budget in June, adding $191 million for a total of $2.6 billion.

DOE has estimated costs for the Hanford cleanup to range from $300 billion to $640 billion, with active cleanup complete in 2078, equaling annual funding levels between $5.36 billion and $11.44 billion.

The Aug. 9 letter says that a DOE lifecycle scope, schedule and cost report outlining a new level of design, engineering and construction work on the long-paused high-level waste facility, in addition to ongoing remediation across the site, will require the added funding.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who made her first visit to Hanford on Aug. 12, noted "considerable progress" already made in the cleanup effort.

But with DOE nearing the start of low-activity waste treatment at the vitrification plant in late 2023 or early 2024, the focus on Hanford continues to intensify.

"It is imperative that your FY24 budget request includes the necessary resources for this critical phase of Hanford cleanup, and for Congress to ensure that this funding is provided," the letter from state officials says. "Specifically, we believe that the appropriate funding level in FY24 is $3.76 billion—along with a recognition that this increased funding must be continued in subsequent fiscal years."

The signatories say that not providing funding will only increase long-terms costs for the project while raising risks to human health and the environment. "We also recognize the important cleanup work taking place at other DOE ... sites, and we strongly believe that all these efforts should be fully funded," they say in the letter. "We encourage the administration and Congress to support an increased budget for the entire Environmental Management program."

The letter follows a GAO study, based on an audit from February through July, which found that "DOE continues to face cost and schedule challenges related to its efforts to address tank waste at the Hanford Site," but also that "current plans for treating the waste assume significant increases in annual appropriations in the next 10 years."

The report contends that opportunities exist for Congress and DOE to take steps now that could potentially save tens of billions of dollars while reducing certain risks posed by the waste.