Hanford contractor gets $48 million reward for radioactive waste work

Looking for leaks inside Hanford’s oldest double shell tank

High pressure water is sprayed to move waste around on the bottom of the inner shell of Hanford Tank AY-102. Bubbles may indicate some of the seven leaks found inside the inner shell. No waste is believed to have escaped. (Video is mute)
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High pressure water is sprayed to move waste around on the bottom of the inner shell of Hanford Tank AY-102. Bubbles may indicate some of the seven leaks found inside the inner shell. No waste is believed to have escaped. (Video is mute)

The Hanford tank farm contractor has been awarded nearly $48 million in incentive pay for its work in 2018. That’s 93 percent of the fee available.

Washington River Protection Solutions, owned by AECOM and Atkins, did particularly well in meeting specific goals set by the Department of Energy, said federal officials.

It earned $35 million, or 98 percent of the pay possible, for meeting performance goals ranging from its work on a comprehensive plan to protect workers from chemical vapors to retrieving or preparing to retrieve radioactive waste from leak-prone single shell tanks.

“I saw very good commitment from the WRPS team toward accomplishing its goals this year,” said Brian Vance, manager of the Department of Energy Office of River Protection at Hanford.

DOE also awarded WRPS nearly $13 million, or 83 percent of the fee available, in a subjective evaluation of its performance.

The contractor is responsible for operating the Hanford tank farms, where 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste are held in underground tanks until the waste can be treated for disposal.

Among the contractor’s tasks are transferring waste in 149 single shell tanks to sturdier double shell tanks and making preparations to start treating some of the waste at Hanford’s vitrification plant.

failed pump A!-106.jpg
Employees of Washington River Protection Solutions remove a failed pump from double-shell Tank AW-106. Courtesy Department of Energy

WRPS impressed DOE with its safety performance, earning 96 percent of the $1.1 million available in its performance evaluation for implementing its safety program.

The contractor set a WRPS record with 8.5 million hours worked without an injury that caused a worker to lose a day of work.

DOE praised WRPS for using two different kinds of robots to crawl into the space between the inner and outer shells of one of the nuclear reservation’s double shell tank to check for corrosion.

With all 16 tanks in the C Tank Farm emptied to regulatory standards, WRPS efficiently removed more than 4,000 feet of above-ground waste transfer hoses, DOE said in its scorecard for the fiscal year that ended in September.

The work helps reduce surveillance and maintenance needed in the C Tank Farms and was done at a cost substantially less than planned, according to DOE.

WRPS did a good job of identifying issues without having to be prompted by DOE, the score card said. It also had independent assessments of its work done more often than required and to cover a broad scope of work.

DOE was pleased that WRPS stepped up to quickly ramp down the design and testing being done for a pretreatment system planned to be built at the Hanford site’s tank farms to prepare some waste before it is sent to the vitrification plant.

The fixed facility is on hold while DOE tries a smaller system that can be set up beside individual tanks to separate out low activity waste from high level waste to meet a 2023 deadline set in federal court to start vitrifying the least hazardous waste.

DOE also found some room for improvement in its tank farm contractor’s performance.

WRPS scored just 65 percent on conduct of operations, earning $1.3 million of $2 million available.

The contractor had five of what DOE termed “adverse events” that did not have serious consequences, but had the potential if not addressed.

In one instance, waste water with very low levels of contamination at the Effluent Treatment Facility complex was transferred even though one pressure gauge was broken and another incorrectly registered a very high pressure.

None of the waste water leaked, but not following procedures created the potential for a leak.

WRPS also needs to improve its understanding of corrosion and how to prevent corrosion in the shells of its double shell tanks, DOE said.

The first of the double shell tanks built has been emptied and taken out of service because of deterioration of its inner shell, leaving Hanford with just 27 double shell tanks.

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Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.