Hanford contractor’s pay is cut to $10M after plutonium contamination

Problems with the spread of contamination at the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant are hitting contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation in its bank account.

The nuclear reservation contractor will receive 80 percent of the incentive pay available for fiscal 2018, down from 89 percent the previous fiscal year and 92 the year before that.

It received just under $10.2 million out of nearly $13 million available, the Department of Energy said in a scorecard released Monday.

DOE reimburses CH2M, owned by Jacobs Engineering Group, for the costs of environmental cleanup and then rewards the company with a fee, or incentive pay, based on it completing specific scopes of work and on a subjective performance evaluation.

The contractor employs about 1,600 workers.

CH2M received just 53 percent of the $3.8 million available for its subjective evaluation, or about $2 million, according to the scorecard.

In addition, the scorecard pointed out that CH2M is no longer eligible for additional pay for completing work to demolish the highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant.

CH2M forfeits pay

The company earned $12 million in incentive pay from fiscal 2009-2012 for its work as it cleaned out and prepared the plant for demolition and tore down ancillary facilities there.

But none of the $39 million in remaining fee it could have earned remains available. The full amount would have been available if CH2M had completed work to tear down the plant by early 2015.

The amount remaining to claim was gradually reduced to zero through September 2018, other than the $12 million already awarded.

This was the second year in a row the annual scorecard from DOE called out CH2M’s performance at the Plutonium Finishing Plant.

The low payment resulting from its subjective performance evaluation is linked to the 2017 spread of radioactive contamination during demolition of the plant and a failure to immediately correct the problem, it said.

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Tearing down Hanford’s Plutonium Finishing Plant has been a high hazard project, with 42 Hanford workers inhaling or ingesting particles of plutonium in 2017. Courtesy Department of Energy

It also reflects the cost and schedule effects on other DOE environmental cleanup work after the plant was not demolished on time. DOE had a legal deadline of September 2017 to have the plant torn down.

Demolition has been halted at the plant since radioactive particles spread in December 2017, following an airborne spread of contamination in June at the plant.

Checks of workers in both incidents found that 42 had inhaled or ingested small amounts of plutonium or other radionuclides.

After the December 2017 event, radioactive particles were found well beyond the plant area, and some worker cars were driven home before specks of contamination on the vehicles were discovered.

CH2M was allowed to resume packaging up contaminated demolition debris in September and is expected to restart demolition of the plant in late February or March 2019.

DOE praises some work

DOE said it has seen steady improvement in CH2M’s work at the plant in the areas of radiological controls, work planning and work supervision since the December 2017 spread.

But more improvement is needed in vehicle safety, accounting for depreciation and a backlog of subcontract audits, the scorecard said.

“We will continue to learn and grow,” said Ty Blackford, CH2M president at Hanford. “We overcame significant challenges, but also made great progress for the Hanford Site mission.”

Both Blackford and the DOE scorecard pointed to CH2M successes in two projects.

The contractor started moving highly radioactive sludge from underwater storage at the K West Reactor near the Columbia River to central Hanford. And it began work to fill a PUREX plant waste storage tunnel at risk of collapse with concrete-like grout.

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The first load of radioactive sludge arrived at Hanford’s T Plant in the center of the nuclear reservation in June 2018. The tractor trailer holding the container is shown before backing into a tunnel at the plant to allow the container to be placed in an underground cell at the plant. Courtesy Department of Energy

DOE also praised CH2M for completing cleanup and the soil backfill of the 618-10 Burial Ground, where highly radioactive waste was disposed of in the ‘50s and ‘60s about six miles north of Richland.

CH2M’s pay determination includes 91 percent, or nearly $8.2 million, of the $8.9 million available for work completed on specific projects.

The only pay it lost was for delays in submitting designs to DOE for storage containers for capsules of radioactive cesium and strontium now stored in an underwater pool. Plans call for moving to dry storage with casks on an outdoor pad.

CH2M also failed to complete a test on time looking at contaminated soil deep underground at Hanford.

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.