Jeff McMahon, Contributor, Forbes.com
More than 10 years into the job, Bechtel National Inc. has been described as incompetent to complete the $12.2 billion nuclear waste treatment plant at Hanford, Wa., the nation’s largest radioactive waste site, according to an internal Department of Energy memo.
In the Aug. 23 memo, the DOE official responsible for supervising engineering at the facility, Gary Brunson, calls for Bechtel to be immediately removed as the design agent for the novel Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), which was supposed to begin operation last year.
Brunson lists 34 “brief examples” of issues in which Bechtel’s design advice was factually incorrect, technically flawed, unsafe, or more costly than alternatives. “The number and significance of these issues indicate that Bechtel National Inc. is not competent to complete their role as the Design Authority for the WTP, and it is questionable that BNI can provide a contract-compliant design as Design Agent,” Brunson writes in the memo.
The memo was acquired by the watchdog group Hanford Challenge and released to the media yesterday.
“The leaked memo puts the Waste Treatment Plant’s woes into sharp relief,” said Tom Carpenter, the executive director of Hanford Challenge. “This memo details exhaustive and disturbing evidence of why Bechtel should be terminated from this project and subject to an independent investigation.”
Bechtel officials argued that the Department of Energy reviewed and approved each of the “design solutions” criticized in the memo.
“Every one of the things in (the) memo are decisions that were discussed transparently, agreed upon,” Frank Russo, Bechtel’s project director, told USA Today.
“We brought in … independent review teams, literally from across the national laboratories and across the country, and they concluded as we did that the directions that we took in partnership with the department were appropriate.”
The Energy Department released a statement expressing frustration with the progress of the plant, which is supposed to vitrify—encase in glass—the 53 million gallons of radioactive and toxic waste at the plant. DOE officials said they would review the memo.
The Hanford facility processed plutonium for nuclear weapons during World War II and the Cold War.
CORRECTED: an earlier version of this post implied the US had already spent $12 billion on the Hanford WTP. That is the current estimated cost of the project.
- Bechtel Responds to DOE Internal Memo Regarding Safety of Waste Treatment Plant Design (sys-con.com)
- Department of Energy engineer says Bechtel should be out at Hanford nuclear plant (oregonlive.com)
- Memo raises more concerns about Hanford contractor (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Federal memo criticizes Hanford cleanup contractor (seattletimes.nwsource.com)