Murray, Newhouse, TRIDEC play vital role in Hanford and PNNL stimulus

As the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic continue to unfold, TRIDEC worked closely with our state and local representatives to secure vital federal funds. 


From the Tri-City Herald
Annette Cary
March 26, 2020

How the stimulus bill will help Hanford and PNNL workers during coronavirus shutdown

Thousands of Hanford workers will continue to be paid thanks to the economic stimulus bill the Senate passed Wednesday night to provide relief during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The bill also covers Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, which Thursday began requiring most staff to telework.

The bill allows DOE to modify its contracts with both to allow contractor and most subcontractor employees to be paid up to 40 hours a week while on-site work is limited during the coronavirus pandemic.

Most Hanford nuclear reservation workers were told to stay home starting Monday, which has since been extended to at least April 6 under a temporary provision. Officials have been trying to use temporary measures, such as those used for weather days at the site, to pay workers in the near term.

Hanford employs about 9,300, who should be covered by the new bill’s provision if they cannot telework, and PNNL employs more than 4,000 in the Tri-Cities, many of whom are teleworking.

“It is tremendously reassuring to know that thousands of Tri-Citians will continue to receive paychecks if they can’t work because of the coronavirus,” said David Reeploeg, vice president for federal programs at the Tri-City Development Council. “Without this provision our local economy could have taken a big hit.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., both “worked extremely hard to get the provision included,” said Reeploeg, who was in frequent contact with their staff as the bill was being finalized.

“They fought tough odds to make it happen and we are extremely grateful,” Reeploeg said.

PAY RETAINS WORKERS

The Tri-Cities community cannot afford to lose the men and women working at Hanford to clean up the nation’s largest nuclear waste site, Newhouse said Thursday.

“These high-skilled workers — and their institutional knowledge — are critical to completing the cleanup mission for the safety of our region,” Newhouse said.

Environmental cleanup is underway at the 580-square-mile Hanford nuclear reservation. The underground tank farms, storing waste from the past production of plutonium, are in the center of the site. COURTESY DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

Environmental cleanup of Hanford is a moral and legal obligation for the nation, “especially during a public health emergency that impacts the safety and livelihood of the workers we count on to finish the mission,” Murray said in a statement.

The provisions added to the coronavirus relief package is particularly important to ensure that trade and craft workers who cannot telework are paid.

The only workers at the Hanford site now are those needed for “mission critical operations.” Only work critical to protect the workforce, the public and the environment in the short term is being done, rather than environmental cleanup of the 580-square-mile site.

Hanford in Eastern Washington produced plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War, leaving the site massively contaminated with radioactive and hazardous chemical waste.

About $2.5 billion a year is being spent annually on cleanup of the site, and that budgeted money will be used to pay workers who are told to stay home but cannot telework as long as only essential operations are underway.

Many staff workers at PNNL have been teleworking since March 17 to reduce face-to-face interaction. Visits to PNNL were suspended and public events scheduled for the coming weeks were postponed.

Among the workers still reporting to the Hanford nuclear reservation during the coronavirus pandemic is the Hanford Patrol. Shown is the patrol’s Special Response Team during a training exercise. BOB BRAWDY TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

Thursday PNNL further curtailed operations, following Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s order for residents to “stay home and stay healthy” for two weeks.

All PNNL workers now are being required to telework, unless their work is considered essential.

Essential staff includes those needed for some national security work, those maintaining safety and security, and those needed to tend to critical experiments to avoid loss of valuable research data or capabilities.

Annette Cary, (509) 582-1533

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.

Read the article on the Tri-City Herald website here.

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