Some Senate appropriators are asking whether the Dept. of Energy has placed enough emphasis on nuclear-waste cleanup in its fiscal 2012 budget proposal, particularly the work at the Hanford site in Washington state. DOE has requested $5.4 billion in 2012 for overall defense-related environmental cleanup. That amount is an increase from the 2011 enacted level of $5 billion but a cut from 2010's $5.6 billion.

At a May 19 appropriations subcommittee hearing on DOE's budget, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said she is concerned that Hanford's share of that $5.4- billion request is inadequate. She says, “It's disappointing that we have to fight the administration year after year.”

DOE is seeking a total of $914 million for Hanford in 2012. Murray says that figure includes a spending boost for continuing construction of the vitrification plant but reduces spending for the rest of the site program.

Murray said she found it “troubling” that funding for DOE's Environmental Management (EM) program “continues to struggle while other programs are receiving funding.” She said that while the Hanford vitrification plant is a priority, “we can't increase funding there and decrease it for other legal obligations.”

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the amount requested for EM cleanup is sufficient to meet federal legal obligations for waste cleanup at Hanford through 2012. He said the government will be able to meet those obligations partly through the infusion of funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which accelerated work at certain DOE sites. About $309 million of ARRA's total $6 billion in DOE cleanup funds remains to be spent.

But Chu acknowledged that, after 2012, it is uncertain whether there will be enough money to continue making adequate progress at Hanford and other sites.

DOE also is asking for significant hikes for other programs in 2012, including the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy research and development program as well as energy-efficiency-related accounts. Energy and water development subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), said that though she supports some of these programs, appropriators and top DOE officials will need to make “some joint, painful decisions” to arrive at a budget more in line with what other agencies will be receiving.