State says Hanford vit plant deadline missed

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldAugust 26, 2013 

The nuclear waste vitrification plant at Hanford.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

A court-enforced deadline to substantially complete construction of the Hanford vitrification plant's Analytical Laboratory by the end of 2012 has not been met, according to the state Office of Attorney General.

Three radioactive liquid waste disposal vessels in the lab have defective welds that have not been addressed, according to a state Department of Ecology report.

The state Office of Attorney General sent a letter with the report to the Department of Justice this month.

"We're reviewing the letter right now," said Wyn Hornbuckle, spokesman for the Department of Justice, to which DOE referred questions.

The Department of Energy notified the state in January that it believed the deadline had been met. The consent decree requires construction to be complete except for the installation of some equipment that could become obsolete or require upkeep if installed before the deadline.

DOE agreed with a contractor decision that the vessels with problem welds could be excluded from work required to meet the deadline, but "Ecology does not agree that 'substantially complete' has been achieved," Ecology said in its report.

The vessels are significant components within structural and mechanical systems and should have been completed before the lab was declared substantially complete, the report said.

The state would have preferred that DOE discuss any potential exclusions it wanted from the deadline requirement rather than declaring the deadline met, said Dan McDonald, Ecology's project manager for the vitrification plant.

"These vessel issues have been known for a great deal of time," the report said. A deficiency report for one was issued in 2006 and updated in 2012 and 2013.

Bechtel National has contracted with Chicago Bridge and Iron to analyze the extent of repairs needed and then fix the tanks, and repairs are expected to be completed by the end of 2013. Then the state will validate and verify the report, McDonald said.

"If that is done, we will close the issue with no further discussion needed," he said.

The state began an exhaustive review of work that had been completed at the Analytical Laboratory in May and concluded that the lab was in generally good shape other than the three vessels, he said.

The plant is not required to be fully operational to treat radioactive waste for disposal until 2022, but the consent decree includes pacing milestones to keep construction and commissioning on track. Some of the construction deadlines have been met, such as installing structural steel to certain heights in the plant's High Level Waste Facility.

But DOE began notifying the state 13 months after the consent decree was signed by a federal judge in October 2010 that it was at risk of missing deadlines. To date, it has said that four deadlines are at risk. Three are for the vitrification plant and the fourth is to have waste emptied from two underground tanks holding radioactive waste in a grouping called the C Tank Farm.

DOE is required to have waste in all 16 of the C Farm tanks emptied by fall 2014.

The consent decree resolved a lawsuit filed by Washington state against DOE in 2008 as it became clear that the legally binding deadlines in the Tri-Party Agreement would not be met. The lawsuit was joined by the state of Oregon.

Among key changes was extending the deadline to have the C Tank Farm emptied from 2006 to 2014 and extending the deadline for the start of operations at the vitrification plant from 2011 to 2019. In exchange for extending deadlines, DOE now may have to answer directly to the court if it misses the deadlines.

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

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