Hanford contractors outline cleanup delays

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMarch 18, 2013 

Environmental cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation will slow as a result of the forced federal budget cuts called sequestration.

In some cases, layoffs and furloughs will mean fewer employees available to do cleanup work. And in other cases, work that Department of Energy's primary contractors had subcontracted out to other companies will be reduced or postponed at least past the Sept. 30 end of the current fiscal year.

Slowdowns will hit work to prepare for the treatment of radioactive sludge, to pull contaminated glove boxes and other equipment out of the Plutonium Finishing Plant, and to clean up contaminated soil at the 300 Area just north of Richland.

However, the Department of Energy has yet to brief its regulators on what impacts the slowdowns will have on meeting legally binding deadlines in the Tri-Party Agreement as it continues to assess work delays.

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.'s top priority is to keep facilities it is responsible for, such as the Plutonium Finishing Plant, in a safe condition, said spokeswoman Dee Millikin. After that it will concentrate on preparing the plant for demolition, treating contaminated groundwater and preparing to treat radioactive sludge in the K West Basin.

But those projects will see some cutbacks in work accomplished, as it must cut $29.8 million from its budget, or 16 percent, in just the last half of the fiscal year.

At the Plutonium Finishing Plant, CH2M Hill is cutting the number of crews removing glove boxes and other contaminated equipment from 12 to eight, Millikin said.

CH2M Hill has less daily flexibility, because of fewer workers, to put together complete crews to safely perform cleanup tasks. There may be some training required as some current union workers are replaced with workers unfamiliar with the plant because of union "bump and rolls."

Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council workers who are laid off at one contractor can claim the jobs of other HAMTC workers with less seniority at other contractors, causing changes to work crews across Hanford.

CH2M Hill will continue to operate groundwater treatment systems. However, it will have to delay drilling new wells used to pump contaminated water out of the ground.

It plans to pause work on construction of an annex at the K West Basin to prepare for the retrieval of radioactive sludge stored in underwater containers in the basin. The sludge is planned to be pumped into the modified annex, where it will go into casks to be taken to central Hanford until it can be treated for disposal.

Federal Engineers and Constructors was awarded a $10.8 million subcontract for the annex construction work in spring 2012.

Documentation needed to prepare for the treatment of sludge will continue, including work to get safety authorization for the project. However, the purchase of equipment for the sludge project will be limited.

Washington Closure Hanford plans to hold off on some environmental cleanup work in the Hanford 300 Area just north of Richland, including deferring most work under a $15 million subcontract awarded this winter to Sage Tec.

The subcontract includes removing contaminated structures below ground associated with the Plutonium Recycle Test Reactor after the reactor is removed. It also includes removing empty tanks, pipelines and contaminated soil near the reactor. The subcontract covers removing an estimated 360,000 tons of waste material.

Washington Closure, which is responsible for Hanford cleanup along the Columbia River, also will hold off on sending about 200 drums to Perma-Fix Northwest for treatment for disposal. The drums, containing uranium chips in oil, were dug up from the 618-10 burial ground.

However, treatment will continue on 170 drums from the burial ground that Perma-Fix has already received, or in some cases, has finished treating.

Mission Support Alliance, which provides support services to the Department of Energy and other contractors across Hanford, expects to require longer to provide some services. That could include taking longer to provide information technology service, for example.

It also may reduce work in some subcontracts.

Less is known about the impacts on cleanup that fall under the DOE Office of River Protection, which is responsible for Hanford's underground waste tanks and the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste. All other Hanford work is under the DOE Richland Operations Office.

The Office of River Protection expects to need to trim about $90 million from spending, including $40 million from tank farm contractor Washington River Protection Solutions, which is responsible for underground tanks holding 56 million gallons of radioactive waste.

Washington River Protection Solutions still is discussing cleanup impacts with DOE, said spokesman Jerry Holloway.

However, it will be cut subcontracts, either by delaying or reducing work under subcontracts or delaying the award of subcontracts. It also will delay purchase of equipment. The impact could affect development of new waste retrieval methods with its new robotic arm, the Mobile Arm Retrieval System, which is inserted into underground tanks to pump out waste. Design and field work also could be affected.

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

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