A lack of productivity at Hanford's Plutonium Finishing Plant has contributed to putting work there two years behind and $179 million over earlier cost and schedule projections, according to a new report.
The Department of Energy Office of Inspector General released an audit Tuesday looking at work to have the plant torn down. It was conducted from September 2012-14, with productivity improvements made during the course of the audit, according to the audit report.
The most serious issues occurred in 2012.
The Defense Contract Audit Agency told DOE shortly after the audit began that several work teams at the plant were seen reading books, playing chess and visiting on cellphones for several hours during work time.
The contractor, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., told investigators that workers were sometimes idle because unanticipated work stoppages made finding tasks for them on short notice difficult.
However, the audit concluded that workers should still be doing required reading, training, revisions to work documents or other tasks.
"The contractor came to realize this," the report said. CH2M Hill told employees they should contact a supervisor when they had idle time.
In 2012, there also were at least 40 instances of critical work delayed because work packages -- detailed plans for work -- were not available or not complete. In some cases, that was because of Hanford-wide layoffs or because of revised requirements to protect workers from beryllium, a metal that can cause lung disease in small amounts.
Hanford workers are encouraged to call a stop to work when they were uncertain how to proceed. In some cases, work instructions in 2012 were incorrect but in others work was halted because of worker preferences on how work packages should be written, Hanford officials were quoted as saying in the audit.
In the same year, there were 47 instances in which work could not be done because full teams of nine to 12 people could not be assembled.
Problems were compounded by repeated failures of a 65-year-old crane needed to remove "pencil tanks" once used to recycle scrap plutonium in one portion of the plant. The crane was out of service for half the time since February 2010.
CH2M Hill looked at options for the crane, including replacing it. It settled on replacing most of the electrical and mechanical components and for the last year it has performed reliably, the report said.
One study by Hanford officials found that 80 percent of planned work at the Plutonium Finishing Plant was not done when scheduled in 2012.
"This does not imply that the work force was idle, but rather there were delayed starts, rescheduled work and other events that impacted the schedule," the audit report said. "Management acknowledged that this was a major concern."
DOE and CH2M Hill officials have been well aware of the challenges posed at the plant since early in CH2M Hill's contract, the report said.
"The facility is 65 years old and significantly contaminated," the report said.
Almost two-thirds of the plutonium used in the nation's nuclear weapons program came through the plant to be turned into metal buttons for the weapons program. Work is being done to clean out the plant, including contaminated glove boxes, so the plant can be torn down to slab on grade by a legal deadline in 2016.
However, the plant had been expected to be torn down by September 2013 for $581 million. Because of issues such as the condition of the facility and Hanford layoffs, that was revised to a planned completion two years before the legal deadline for $753 million.
The projected cost now is $932 million.
DOE headquarters conducted an assessment of work force productivity in October 2013 and concluded that it had improved, but said it would take time to see if that could be sustained.
While CH2M Hill has addressed many of its productivity problems, DOE still needs to perform better oversight of the contractor, the report said.
DOE agreed improvements were needed and has implemented some improvements and plans others, according to its response to the audit.
Changes have included formal monthly project reviews by senior managers, and a formal assessment of the contractor's system to manage actions taken to correct issues is planned.
DOE's Hanford office with oversight of the Plutonium Finishing Plant is revising its system to manage issues, including its ability to track issues and identify trends. The new system should be in place in spring 2015.
w Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews