The state of Washington has agreed to waive a $50,000 penalty if a Hanford contractor will make improvements in its handling of waste stored at the nuclear reservation’s historic T Plant.
In August 2016, the state Department of Ecology issued the penalty after determining that CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. had not met regulations on five containers of waste that included leaking batteries, paint chips and concrete pieces, or grease.
Some of the waste came from floor scrapings that had the potential to include low levels of radioactive contamination.
CH2M and the Department of Energy, which was also named in the state order in 2016, were ordered to obtain detailed analysis of waste before storing it and to maintain records properly.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
State officials said then that if Hanford officials were not following the rules on simple wastes, like batteries, it could have more serious issues when it handles more hazardous and complex issues.
Waste is required to be analyzed and correctly labeled before it is stored — indicating if it is corrosive or can easily catch fire, for example — to keep workers safe from hazards and make sure waste is stored correctly.
It is important to make sure that (CH2M’s) cleanup work complies with regulatory requirement in order to make the site safer for people and to reduce environmental threats.
Jared Mathey, Department of Ecology compliance inspector
DOE said it was storing the waste properly and had identified and designated waste in the containers, but there might have been a miscommunication.
Ecology said it asked for records several times and based the order on the records it received. It had found similar issues in four previous inspections before issuing the penalty, it said.
CH2M appealed the order and penalty, leading to a settlement agreement reached through court mediation, according to information from the state released on Friday.
CH2M agreed to establish a temporary holding area at T Plant for waste that has not been analyzed. The system is intended to make sure that wastes generated at the plant are analyzed before being moved into storage.
The contractor agreed to enhanced record-keeping on all of the waste it generates and stores at T Plant. The records will allow the Department of Ecology to more accurately track what’s being stored and how long it has been in storage, according to Ecology.
Both steps must be completed before the end of September.
$50,000 penalty from 2016 that has been waived
$25,000 maximum penalty if terms of settlement agreement are not met
Ecology would be allowed to issue a new penalty of up to $25,000 if the terms of the settlement agreement are not met.
“It is important to make sure that (CH2M’s) cleanup work complies with regulatory requirement in order to make the site safer for people and to reduce environmental threats,” said Jared Mathey, an Ecology compliance inspector. “This agreement fulfills those goals.”
CH2M did not admit it acted improperly, but pledged to enhance storage and record-keeping, according to the state.
CH2M and DOE declined comment on the settlement agreement.
T Plant was built during World War II to chemically process irradiated uranium to remove plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program. When it began operating in 1945, workers nicknamed it the Queen Mary for its 800-foot-long, narrow shape that reminded them of the ocean liner of the era.
T Plant is the oldest remaining nuclear facility in the nation still being used, although not for its original mission. Now the massive plant is used to store, repackage and treat Hanford waste during environmental cleanup of the nuclear reservation. It is also used to repair equipment.