CH2M Hill notified of problems in enforcement letter

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 21, 2012 

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. has received an enforcement letter for having inadequate controls over radioactive material at Hanford from the Department of Energy Office of Health, Safety and Security.

However, DOE has not issued a fine and plans to take no further action after finding progress toward improvements in CH2M Hill programs, the letter stated.

The incidents discussed in the letter occurred in late 2010 through spring 2011 at Hanford's Plutonium Finishing Plant and the K East Reactor. It pointed out that problems continued to occur in that time frame, despite efforts to make corrections that would prevent them.

But a surveillance this spring by Hanford DOE officials reported significant improvements in radiological work planning and execution, the letter stated.

The surveillance report identified more effective use of controls to prevent the spread of radioactive materials and a more disciplined use of procedures and critiques.

The letter also reported that CH2M Hill replaced key line management personnel in its decommissioning and demolition project in an effort to correct a culture that did not value procedural compliance.

While the DOE letter recognized CH2M Hill's progress toward improvements, CH2M Hill has taken the letter seriously, said Dee Millikin, spokeswoman for CH2M Hill.

Past events have shown a trend of deficiencies in planning and conducting work and CH2M Hill has been working with DOE Hanford officials to make improvements over the last two years, she said. Those improvements are not only in work management and operations, but also in its management of corrective actions and its self assessment, she said.

The DOE letter covered a problem at the K East Reactor in early 2011 with the horizontal control rods in the reactor core. Demolition work called for an excavator to shear off the rod extensions used to position the control rods, leaving the control rods in place inside the reactor core.

However, the work could not be completed and a photograph shows 11 control rods hanging from the outer control wall of the reactors' control rod room on Jan. 11, 2011, the letter stated. Work was stopped the next day.

Five of the control rods were radioactive, but CH2M Hill failed to analyze hazards and develop appropriate controls, the letter stated.

"The Office of Enforcement and Oversight considers this to be a near miss for a radiological exposure event," the letter stated.

The letter also listed four events at the Plutonium Finishing Plant that resulted in airborne radioactivity. In one incident, four workers inhaled small amounts of airborne plutonium, according to previous reports. Contamination was radioactively equivalent to two chest X-rays for the two workers with the most exposure.

During the time of all four incidents, work was under way to decontaminate glove boxes, detach them, and, in some cases, cut them up to fit into containers for disposal.

In two of the incidents workers were using a circular saw to cut a glove box. In another case, a crowbar was being used to remove a liner from the glove box. In the case in which workers inhaled plutonium, they were disassembling a Plexiglas window with a contaminated gasket.

In addition to those events, DOE Hanford officials reported problems with planning, hazard analysis and execution of radiological work that extended at the time to projects beyond the demolition of Plutonium Finishing Plant glove boxes, the letter said.

While the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security sees no need for further enforcement action, it will continue to monitor CH2M Hill's safety performance, it said.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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