DOE to close Hanford lab with 60 workers

Tri-City HeraldMarch 19, 2014 

The Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility in central Hanford as seen from the air.

DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

— The Department of Energy told employees Wednesday that it plans to stop operating the Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility in central Hanford within a year.

About 60 people work at the laboratory. They are employees of RJ Lee, a Mission Support Alliance subcontractor, which operates the lab. In addition, about 18 employees of Mission Support Alliance do some work to support the lab as part of their jobs.

No information was available Wednesday on the fate of those jobs. The work done at the lab is expected to be transferred to offsite laboratories.

Closing the lab will reduce infrastructure costs and the savings can be used to conduct additional environmental cleanup work, said Matt McCormick, manager of the DOE Richland Operations Office, in a message to Hanford workers.

Offsite labs can provide the same analytical services at significantly lower costs, he said. He expects an average savings of $12 million a year, most from eliminating the cost of maintaining and operating the Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility.

Mission Support Alliance, DOE’s support-services contractor at Hanford, is expected to have a plan prepared within 60 days for the shutdown of the 40,000-square-foot lab and the fate of about a dozen nearby buildings used for sample archiving, data management and canister cleaning.

More is expected to be known then about the timing of the closure and what will happen to the workers at the lab, including at least 42 Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council (HAMTC) workers.

“The work in question is ours and we intend to fight for it,” said Dave Molnaa, HAMTC president.

HAMTC does not have details yet on the announced change, but it expects DOE to provide full transparency in transition discussions and to ensure that a lab contracted to perform services will use HAMTC personnel, he said. DOE has agreed to engage in labor discussions whenever privatization is proposed, he added.

The Mission Support Alliance contract includes sample analysis as assigned work, but the contract will be modified to delete that work.

The Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility was built in the early 1990s and opened in 1994 to analyze samples with trace amounts of chemicals and radioactive materials from Hanford surveillance and monitoring activities and from environmental cleanup work. Among its work is looking at samples of air, water, soil, vapor and sludge.

Twenty years ago, DOE and its regulators were not confident that offsite labs could perform the volume of work needed and do it quickly, McCormick said in his memo.

But the capacity and turnaround times of offsite labs have improved since then and shipping has become faster and more reliable, he said. Hanford contractor Washington Closure Hanford already is using offsite labs rather than the Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility, and contractors at other DOE sites across the nation also successfully ship their samples offsite, McCormick said.

Washington Closure, which is responsible for Hanford cleanup along the Columbia River, has contracts with several labs to ensure flexibility, access and quality control, said Washington Closure spokesman Peter Bengtson. The labs include TestAmerica in Richland.

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. is the main user of the Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility for its work to clean up and monitor groundwater and for central Hanford environmental work. Mission Support Alliance also uses the lab for samples in its surveillance and environmental monitoring work.

Washington River Protection Solutions accounts for a small percentage of the lab’s work. It is responsible for 56 million gallons of waste in underground tanks.

Samples of high-level radioactive waste from Hanford tanks will continue to be sent to the 222-S Laboratory in central Hanford, which will operate as usual.

When the Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility is no longer needed, it will be kept in a low-cost maintenance and surveillance mode until it is demolished. Because of its low risk to the environment, demolition is not expected to be done soon.

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

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