Supplier sues over vit plant troubles

Annette Cary, Herald Staff WriterNovember 9, 2013 

Vit plant Hanford

Rebar and concrete walls are installed last fall at the top of the High-Level Waste Facility at the Hanford vitrification plant.

COURTESY BECHTEL NATIONAL

Problems at the vitrification plant have added millions of dollars of uncompensated costs to a subcontractor on the project, the company says in a federal lawsuit.

American Crane and Equipment Corp. of Pennsylvania has sued Department of Energy contractor Bechtel National, saying that delays, technical questions and other issues at the plant have added at least $3.9 million to its costs.

“The costs that are the subject of this action did not arise in a vacuum,” American Crane said in its lawsuit.

Issues that have increased the plant’s construction and commissioning schedule by eight years and tripled its price also have influenced American Crane’s costs, the lawsuit said.

American Crane agreed in 2003 to design and manufacture eight cranes for $13.2 million. The cranes are to be used in the plant’s High Level Waste Facility, where they will be remotely operated as they perform work with radioactive waste in hot cells.

The plant is being built to turn radioactive waste left from the past production of weapons plutonium at Hanford into a stable glass form.

It’s required by a court-enforced consent decree to be fully operating in 2022, but DOE has notified the state of Washington that it may miss that deadline.

The plant has been under intense scrutiny because of its immense cost — $12.3 billion and rising — a risky plan to do construction as design work continued, first-of-a-kind technical challenges and the urgency of treating radioactive waste now held in leak-prone underground tanks, the lawsuit said.

DOE has had a “never-ending” increase in mandates that Bechtel passed on to suppliers without consideration of cost or schedule impacts, American Crane said.

One of the major disruptions for American Crane was the shutdown of its work for more than two years starting in 2005 as Bechtel and DOE re-examined and re-set the design criteria for earthquake safety, the lawsuit said. Not only did the company have restart costs, but the design criteria for the cranes, the inspection procedures and the standards Bechtel set for accepting the cranes were drastically changed, according to American Crane.

But an even larger driver of the cost increase was the continual ratcheting up of Bechtel’s interpretations of contractual, technical and regulatory requirements that American Crane believes have been unwarranted, according to the lawsuit.

The subcontractor has had 13 Bechtel representatives overseeing quality of its cranes under the subcontract, with many of them raising issues that had previously been resolved and providing interpretations that are in conflict with other inspectors’ interpretations, the lawsuit said.

Because the work to design and build the cranes has spanned a decade, American Crane is left with substantial risk to its warranties, the lawsuit said.

Manufacturer warranties for parts American Crane purchased, such as brakes, bearings and electrical drives, will expire before the cranes are shipped to Bechtel. That will leave American Crane with the choice of purchasing extended warranties or covering warranties that are part of its subcontract, the lawsuit said. In some cases parts may be obsolete or too old to be used before the cranes are shipped, it said.

Bechtel has not filed a response to allegations in the lawsuit in Eastern Washington U.S. District Court and declined to comment.

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