There’s a problem with the records on 12,000 Hanford wells, audit finds

A well is drilled at the Hanford nuclear reservation. The site has about 12,000 wells, either in use or decommissioned.
A well is drilled at the Hanford nuclear reservation. The site has about 12,000 wells, either in use or decommissioned. Courtesy Department of Energy

Hanford needs to do a better job in recording the status of the site’s approximately 12,000 wells that are either decommissioned or in use, according to a new audit report from the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General.

The Department of Energy made changes after a 2005 audit, but the follow-up audit released Friday showed more room for improvement.

DOE was effectively decommissioning wells that no longer serve a purpose at Hanford, the review found.

But investigators’ limited sample of 15 wells concluded that a database to track well inspections and other information was not up to date on most of them.

The Hanford nuclear reservation has a network of wells to monitor for contaminants and extract contaminated groundwater.

“Documenting well inspections in the database ensures that the department has promptly identified any wells that are in disrepair,” the audit report said.

Wells in disrepair can provide pathways for contaminants at the nuclear reservation to reach the groundwater, endangering human health and the environment, according to the report.

Not documenting that wells have been inspected and repaired can lead to delays in sampling, because wells should be inspected before samples are collected, the report said.

It’s particularly important that the database be kept up to date now as CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.’s contract is expiring, the report said. A current database will improve the continuity of the program through the contract transition, it said.

CH2M’s 10-year contract, which includes Hanford groundwater cleanup, expires at the end of September, although DOE has indicated it will need to extend the contract for up to a year as it prepares to award a new contract.

The audit found that 10 of 15 wells had no inspection date entered in a database. However, DOE did maintain hard-copy inspection and well-decommissioning records, the audit said.

For some of the remaining five wells, inspection dates had not been entered into a system that provided a quick visual check of the status of wells.

DOE told inspectors that it would make improvements, including developing procedures to make sure inspection dates are entered into the database. according to the audit

DOE also will make sure that its well decommissioning plan is updated, the audit said.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533; @HanfordNews