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In Our View: The new U.S. Energy Secretary


Why Ernest Moniz matters

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Dr. Ernest Moniz is a Beethoven lookalike, a bookish 60-something who could meander into an Edmonds Starbucks and go unrecognized. He merits attention, though, particularly among Westerners.
In a 97-0 vote Thursday, the Senate confirmed Moniz, an MIT nuclear physicist, as energy secretary. No cabinet honcho outside of newly confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will play a more determinative role in the economic and environmental future of the Pacific Northwest.
Priority one for Moniz is a clear-eyed briefing on Washington's Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The most contaminated nuclear site in North America has been throwing off clues that cleanup must be accelerated. Or else.
In February, the Energy Department detected leaks in its T-111 tanks, underground receptacles constructed in the mid-1940s and engineered to last just 20 years. There are 117 T-111 tanks at Hanford, each with a storage capacity of 530,000 gallons. Construction of a $12.3 billion vitrification facility to transform and stabilize the radioactive waste is several years behind schedule.
"I am encouraged that Dr. Moniz has a deep background in energy issues vital to the Pacific Northwest: From accelerating hydropower and other clean energy solutions, to maintaining cost-based power at the Bonneville Power Administration, to ensuring that Hanford cleanup is based on good science and existing timelines," Sen. Maria Cantwell, a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said.
During his April 9 confirmation hearing, Moniz committed to Cantwell that he would visit Hanford. It's not too early to get it on the calendar (say, the Independence Day recess.)
Federal sequestration compounds the resources scramble. As Moniz triages the Energy budget, Hanford needs to rise to the top. It's a crisis-in-waiting that demands a proactive plan.
Other concerns that Sen. Cantwell flagged include renewed consideration of separating more volatile defense waste from civilian radioactive waste. Moniz also pledged to keep Pacific Northwest laboratory in the intelligence loop.
"I'm going to be looking to work in a somewhat different way with the laboratory directors, so that they are engaged more in strategic decisions about where we all go together," Moniz said. He also claims to understand the significance of low, cost-based power, a critical concern for Snohomish County PUD customers dependent upon the Bonneville Power Administration.
Hanford is not an "over there" abstraction. Moniz is poised to make meaningful progress on the nuclear puzzle. We're watching.

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