Shortcomings in the quality assurance requirements for Hanford subcontractors on cleanup projects along the Columbia River cost taxpayers and contributed to one near-miss incident that had the potential to injure workers, a new report said.
The Department of Energy Office of Inspector General issued an audit report Friday looking at quality assurance of subcontracted work on the recently completed River Corridor Closure Contract that was held by Washington Closure Hanford.
As a result of the findings in the audit report, DOE plans to complete an audit of all its current prime contractors at Hanford related to nuclear quality assurance for their subcontractors by September.
Inadequate quality assurance requirements for one subcontract contributed to shortcomings with equipment used for initial determination of what sort of radioactive waste was contained in pipes buried vertically in the ground at the 618-10 Burial Ground just north of Richland, the report said.
It noted that the 618-10 Burial ground contains some of the most hazardous waste at Hanford.
Despite these failures, the instruments were still used to collect data.
DOE Office of Inspector General audit report
Probes inserted into the ground around the waste-filled pipes, called vertical pipe units, failed calibration checks 92 percent of the time, the report said.
“Despite these failures, the instruments were still used to collect data,” the report said.
If quality assurance requirements had been better, the probes would have been required to be removed from service until they were repaired or replaced, the report said.
In another case, quality assurance requirements were overused, the report said.
Washington Closure required a subcontractor to meet nuclear quality standards to move mobile offices and restrooms at the nuclear reservation.
The contractor told DOE the requirement for the low-risk work was included for a hypothetical worst-case scenario. But the report questioned whether applying nuclear quality standards to the work needlessly raised the cost that DOE paid for the work.
$270,894 Cost of collapsed wall
The report also concluded that Washington Closure in some cases did not effectively evaluate whether suppliers had the capability to meet requirements in their subcontracts.
It pointed to a November 2012 incident in which a temporary wall was being built by a subcontractor to help with the lift of a 1,100-ton vault that once held radioactive waste. Work was being done to haul the vault to a central Hanford lined landfill away from the Columbia River.
“Three days into construction, the wall collapsed, spilling more than 95 cubic yards of wet concrete and ecology blocks into a previously occupied work area,” the audit report said.
The audit report found weaknesses in the subcontractor’s ability to follow its quality assurance program. Its procedure did not clearly define and establish expectations for formal design of construction aids, such as the support wall.
DOE is evaluating $270,894 it paid Washington Closure for the subcontractor’s work on the failed wall, DOE said in its reply to the Office of Inspector General. DOE could decided to recover the cost, it said.
Washington Closure declined to comment on the report. Its contract has expired, but it continues to do some work to close out the contract.