After allegations of mismanagement at Hanford's $12.2 billion Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) surfaced in our first investigation on the issue last October,>"/>
By Joshua Frank
After allegations of mismanagement at Hanford's $12.2 billion Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) surfaced in our first investigation on the issue last October, and in another in-depth report in February, the Department of Energy (DOE) decided to take a closer look - shipping off their auditors to Eastern Washington.
In a damning report released this morning, the DOE Office of Inspector General found that Bechtel, the outfit hired to build the plant that is to one day turn Hanford's nuke waste into glass, has not held up its end of the contract. In fact, the report finds Bechtel is continuing to get paid to produce less than adequate work.
First is the case of the missing money. According to the report Bechtel made off with a cool $15 million after the company was awarded funds as an incentive fee for producing vessels that are to operate inside WTP. The DOE paid Bechtel $15 million before realizing the vessel design was defective. The DOE then asked for the taxpayer funds back, but never got it, and Bechtel never reminded them.
Second, the DOE found more than one instance in which "quality assurance records" - records that show what they are building will actually work as planned - were missing or not identifiable. Think of it as a paper trail that leads nowhere.
Additionally, the DOE notes in its audit that inspectors of the vessels, while not required to do so, ought to have the same technical skills as the workers who are performing the work itself. Essentially the DOE asks how one can oversee work performed if they aren't even experts of said work, writing, "it would be prudent to require on-site inspectors be fully qualified to reduce the risk of fabrication errors."
"The stark truth is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would probably not license this facility given its 'quality indeterminate' state," says Tom Carpenter of watchdog group Hanford Challenge, adding that he believes all design and construction of WTP should stop at once.
Carpenter is not the only one calling for a stop to construction. Members of Occupy Portland made their way Richland, Wash. recently, in part to protest Bechtel's mismanagement of WTP.
Bechtel would not offer comment on the audit.
The DOE Inspector General report, which you can read in full here, will only add fuel to the critics' fiery rage over the Hanford cleanup project - the largest and most expensive environmental cleanup effort the world has ever seen.