Washington Closure begins to plan end of its Hanford work

HANFORD — With well more than half of Washington Closure Hanford's work complete, the contractor is beginning to make plans for the end of most environmental cleanup at Hanford along the Columbia River.

It's making sure that workers are prepared for their jobs to end during the next five years and that plans are made for the transition of office buildings, utilities and the central Hanford landfill.

Washington Closure holds the first and only closure contract at Hanford. When it expires, the Department of Energy expects most work to be completed. There should be no need to rebid the contract and roll most workers over to a new company, as usually happens with Hanford's environmental cleanup contracts.

Washington Closure faces a deadline of Sept. 30, 2015, to complete its work, but believes that most work, other than three projects with difficult technical challenges, will be completed well before then.

"The timing is right to develop a closure plan," said Carol Johnson, who recently was hired for the new position of closure director.

Washington Closure's goal is to treat workers with respect and let them know the contractor's plans and their options as early as possible, said Washington Closure spokesman Todd Nelson.

While cleanup of the river corridor has been a closure project since Washington Closure Hanford took over the contract for the work from Bechtel Hanford in August 2005, people tend to forget that, Johnson said.

Now Washington Closure and its prime subcontractor, Eberline Services, employ 960 people. In addition, about half that number work on Washington Closure projects through other subcontractors.

DOE's plan has been to concentrate efforts on central Hanford cleanup once river corridor cleanup is completed.

"A lot of complex work remains," said Cameron Hardy, DOE spokesman.

But it's too early to know how many jobs may be available in central Hanford that could be an option for those now working on the river corridor.

Employment at Hanford is believed to have peaked at about 12,000 workers.

In 2012, after the last of the $1.96 billion in stimulus money is spent, DOE is projecting 10,551 jobs. That will drop to 9,558 in 2015 and 8,635 in 2019, according to DOE estimates.

Washington Closure will help workers understand what opportunities are available, including work elsewhere at its parent companies, URS, Bechtel and CH2M Hill, Nelson said. It expects a gradual ramp down as some projects are completed and no additional projects are available that workers can transfer to at Washington Closure.

Environmental cleanup on some areas in the 220 square miles along the Columbia River is expected to be declared finished this year.

The transition plan Johnson is preparing also will look at other factors, such as what will become of warehouses and offices now used by Washington Closure, and how utilities will continue to be provided in the 300 Area just north of Richland. Although most buildings in the 300 Area have been or will be torn down, the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will continue to use some buildings there for up to 20 years.

Johnson also will be keeping an eye on projects to address issues early that might extend the schedule.

She took the Hanford job after a four-year assignment as executive director of infrastructure at the Sellafield site in the United Kingdom. She also has been a manager at the Savannah River, S.C., site' the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Idaho National Laboratory.

Two of Washington Closure's most difficult projects are cleanup of the high-hazard 618-10 and 618-11 Burial Grounds, which may not be finished by late 2015. They hold radioactive and chemical waste from experiments and metal analysis in Hanford's 300 Area. The waste was dropped into caissons, or large underground boxes, and dropped down vertical pipes.

Washington Closure also has to address the recent discovery of highly contaminated soil beneath Building 324 in Hanford's 300 Area just north of Richland. It is the third project that might not be completed by late 2015. Radioactive waste leaked into the soil through the steel lining of a sump beneath a hot cell, making the previous plan to demolish the building unworkable. Now the building and the hot cell provide shielding that protect workers from the radioactivity.

Work that Washington Closure has completed includes demolishing 151 buildings and excavating 168 waste sites. It is 5.6 percent ahead of its work schedule and about $221 million under anticipated cost, Nelson said.

* Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.