President Obama’s energy secretary nominee said Tuesday the Department of Energy’s status quo was unacceptable at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, and vowed to work with the Northwest congressional delegation to come up with a plan for an ongoing cleanup effort.
Ernest Moniz made the comments at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Hanford is the most contaminated nuclear site in the nation and one plagued by leaks, the risk of explosion and costly problems with a vitrification plant being built to treat the waste.
Discussion and questions about the problems at Hanford took up much of Moniz’s hearing.
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Hanford was created by the federal government in the 1940s as part of efforts to build the atomic bomb, and taxpayers have spent billions of dollars on attempts to clean up the site.
In response to a question from Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, Moniz said he would support trying to meet the milestones set for the cleanup and would work with Congress to try to get the money to do the job.
Moniz told Cantwell and Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, that he would visit Hanford, speak with whistle-blowers and meet with members of the Northwest congressional delegation to develop a plan of action for the site.
Moniz also pledged to look into a report from Wyden that energy officials said they needed two years just to decide whether tanks could be officially declared as leaking.
Moniz is expected to be confirmed as energy secretary, and Wyden said he supported him.
McClatchy Newspapers reporter Sean Cockerham and Seattle Times staff reporter Hal Bernton contributed to this story.