An independent review of the nuclear safety culture at the Hanford vitrification plant is under way, as promised by the Department of Energy in late June.
DOE said then that it would join its contractor Bechtel National to sponsor an independent, executive-level assessment by a group of experts in the nuclear industry with experience in Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspections or evaluations by the industry group the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations.
It was one of the actions DOE announced it would take after a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board investigation concluded in June that the technical safety culture at the plant was in need of "prompt, major improvement."
The plant is being built to turn up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste from the past production of plutonium at Hanford into a stable glass form for disposal. Questions have been raised about whether scientists and engineers feel free to raise concerns about how safely and efficiently the plant will operate and how DOE and Bechtel address those concerns.
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"While we believe that our nuclear safety and quality culture here at WTP (the Waste Treatment Plant) is strong, we also believe in continuous improvement," said Frank Russo, Bechtel project director for the plant, in a statement.
"We welcome the opportunity for a full and open review of the project by these experts, and we will accept and implement any actions they identify," he said.
The review will assess recent initiatives to improve nuclear safety and quality culture and provide recommendations to continually improve it, Russo said in a message to staff.
Bechtel made recommendations for panel members and DOE approved them. The review is being done under Bechtel's contract.
Bechtel looked for experts with nuclear safety culture experience, nuclear industrial experience and knowledge of DOE regulations, said Bechtel spokeswoman Suzanne Heaston.
"The team has been given a broad mandate and wide latitude to define for themselves the scope of their nuclear safety and quality culture review and to determine the actions they deem necessary to provide independent conclusions and recommendations," Russo told employees.
The team has told Bechtel that it will use several sources of information in its review, including all-employee surveys, interviews with employees and a review of other project information, including other recent evaluations conducted by external experts.
The panel wrote its own questions for the employee survey, which will be distributed this week at the vitrification plant construction site and next week for other employees.
"This survey will allow all employees an opportunity to provide their opinions to the team," said Russo in a memo to employees.
Some interviews and meetings with employees have been conducted and more are planned the week of Aug. 29.
Seven people have been picked for the Independent Safety and Quality Culture Assessment Team. They include:
-- David Amerine, who has more than 40 years of experience with nuclear safety culture issues at DOE and commercial nuclear facilities, including executive-level management at several DOE contractors.
-- Joe Callen, who retired from the NRC after 19 years, that included serving as NRC executive director for operations.
-- Nils Diaz, who is a former NRC chairman with more than 40 years of nuclear experience.
-- Gerald Garfield, who is chairman of the Day Pitney's Energy and Utility Law Department and has investigated safety culture issues at the Millstone and Callaway nuclear facilities.
-- Roger Mattson, who has 47 years of experience in the nuclear safety field, including serving in senior management positions for the NRC.
-- Luis Reyes, who most recently was NRC executive director for operations for 4,000 employees.
-- Michael Sellman, who previously served as president of Nuclear Management Co., which held the operating licenses for eight commercial nuclear plants and was responsible for their safe operations.
Other actions that DOE told the defense board it would take include arranging for Safety Conscious Work Environment training for Bechtel and DOE managers, establishing an ombudsman at the Office of Environmental Management headquarters to act as an advocate for employees and combining the Employee Concerns Programs for the two DOE Hanford offices.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.