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February 14, 2002

Cantwell questions nuclear cleanup funds

WASHINGTON -- An Energy Department official has defended the administration's proposal to make some nuclear cleanup money contingent upon requiring the work to be done faster and cheaper.

For the 2003 budget year, the administration has proposed funding the cleanup of former nuclear sites nationwide at levels consistent with the current budget -- about $6.7 billion. However, $800 million of that money would be doled out only after new agreements are reached to get the work done more efficiently.

If the Hanford nuclear reservation near Richland, Wash., doesn't get any money from the proposed $800 million pool, the administration would be cutting its cleanup funds by $262 million.

"The existing way of doing business ... doesn't actually reduce risk, and it is in a way unconscionable fiscal policy because it doesn't save money," Energy Department Chief Financial Officer Bruce Carnes said Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"We are looking at cleanup activities that could take until the lifetimes of our great-grandchildren," he said.

As an example, he pointed out that Hanford won't be completed until 2070.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said she and the public weren't interested in using "creative accounting" techniques to pay for the cleanup that must be done as prescribed under legally binding agreements.

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