Looming Federal Cuts Threaten Work at Hanford, SRS and Other DOE Sites

With Congress fast approaching a March deadline to avert automatic spending cuts across the federal budget, a report released last week suggests they could result in thousands of furloughs at Department of Energy cleanup sites.

According to an analysis prepared by the staff of the House Appropriations Committee Democrats, automatic cuts could result in six-week furloughs for 1,000 workers at Washington's Hanford site, while more than 1,000 workers could be out of work for about four months at South Carolina's Savannah River Site. National laboratories and other DOE locations would be affected as well.

The report suggests that sequestration, as the cuts are known, would result in suspension of plutonium processing at H Canyon at Savannah River, as well as remediation landfill operations at Oak Ridge and transuranic waste exhumation at the Idaho National Laboratory. Liquid tank waste retrieval at both Hanford and SRS would be delayed. Sequestration would threaten as many as 30 project compliance milestones, according to the report, which could result in fines.

The automatic cuts across the federal budget, including defense, were designed to be displeasing to both parties and to serve as motivation for the so-called "Super Committee" to form an alternative budget deal. It was formed in 2011 following House Republican's drive to reduce the deficit by withholding a previously routine vote to increase the government's borrowing limit. That committee failed to find a compromise, and the automatic cuts were to become law at the beginning of this year until a temporary measure pushed sequestration into next month.

The Department of Energy has not endorsed the potential cuts listed by House Democrats. Also, severe cuts might not take effect if Congress is successful in its efforts to pass a compromise bill to avoid sequestration in the coming weeks.

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