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Coalition seeks extra $7.25B for DOE nuclear cleanup, jobs jolt

Forrestal Building, Washington DC (copy) (copy)

The James Forrestal Building, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. (Colin Demarest/Staff)

A cohort of nuclear-minded organizations is pressing the Biden administration for a one-time cash injection it believes would accelerate cleanup of contaminated sites across the U.S. and stimulate neighboring economies ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

An extra $7.25 billion for the Department of Energy’s remediation office, Environmental Management, would pay dividends, the bloc wrote in an April 20 letter to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

“This funding, which could be spent in the near future, will help reignite the national economy, assist in reviving small businesses, and create thousands of new jobs,” reads the widely shared letter. “At the same time, it could reduce one of the federal government’s largest liabilities, accelerate the national defense mission, advance environmental justice, and build a nuclear workforce for the future.”

The Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization and Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, two Aiken-area nonprofits, were among the organizations that signed the letter.

A similar $7.25 billion appeal was made around this time last year, as the pandemic seized the U.S. and unemployment claims skyrocketed. The SRSCRO and CNTA supported that effort, as well.

The coalition this year expressed confidence in the Energy Department’s ability to manage and spend the extra money – should it be appropriated – because of its previous experiences.

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act “allowed DOE to speed up decontamination and demolition at numerous sites and award more contracts to private industry and small businesses to hasten the clean-up of legacy nuclear waste,” the group wrote to Granholm.

Environmental Management estimates a $6 billion investment years ago reduced its environmental liability by $13 billion. The federal government’s total environmental liability in fiscal year 2019 approached $600 billion – up from $212 billion in fiscal year 1997.

“We saw the success of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act back in the 2009 timeframe,” Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness Executive Director Jim Marra said, “and this could certainly be a follow-on to that effort.”

The $7.25 billion request comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2022 budget blueprint and as Congress takes its first steps in the annual funding dance. Biden's preliminary pitch, published earlier this month, included $46.1 billion for the Energy Department, a roughly 10% increase compared to 2021.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the Energy Department, its NNSA, and government and politics, in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin.

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