The Department of Energy is extending Washington Closure Hanford’s contract by one year through September 2016, DOE announced Tuesday.
The extension gives some job certainty to the employees of the contractor. At least some of the 700 employees will have jobs for another year.
The final year of the extended contract would focus mostly on two challenging projects, cleanup of the trenches at the 618-10 Burial Ground and placing the 324 Building in maintenance status for future demolition, said Scott Sax, president of Washington Closure, in a message to employees Tuesday.
Washington Closure is working under a 10-year contract that was expected to end four months from now with the environmental cleanup of the 220 square miles of Hanford along the Columbia River completed.
But budget shortfalls, including sequestration’s mandatory budget cuts, and some contamination that was found to be more extensive or more hazardous than expected have kept the work from being done by September 2015. DOE also has added $400 million worth of work to the contract since it was awarded.
The work covered under the contract through this fiscal year comes to just over $2.7 billion, and the additional year will bring the contract budget to a total of almost $2.9 billion.
“They’ve done exemplary work,” said Doug Shoop, DOE deputy site manager for the Richland Operations Office. “We would not have contemplated extending the contract if they had not done work in such a safe and efficient manner.”
Work to date by Washington Closure has been $295 million under budget.
However, DOE does not anticipate extending the contract past September 2016, Shoop said. That appears to be the best time to end the contract, he said.
Washington Closure will continue to excavate trenches in the 618-10 Burial Ground north of Richland under the extension. The burial ground also has vertically buried pipes that radioactive and hazardous chemical waste was dropped down.
Washington Closure had driven over-casings into the ground around those pipes. Work to remove the pipes would only start in the final year of the extended contract if money is available, Shoop said.
A similar burial ground near the Columbia River, 618-11, also needs to be cleaned up, but that work is not planned to be done until the 618-10 Burial Ground is cleaned up.
The design for a system to remove the highly radioactive spill of cesium and strontium under the 324 Building just north of Richland would be completed under the contract extension.
But cleanup of the spill would only start if DOE was confident money was available for an extended period of time, Shoop said.
Washington Closure has prepared an options analysis paper for DOE to consider for a “safe, surveillance and maintenance mode” for the building, Sax told employees.
Environmental cleanup work also remains to be done along the Columbia River near the K Reactors. But that work is assigned to another DOE contractor, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., because it cannot be completed until radioactive sludge is removed from the K West Reactor Building, years after Washington Closure was expected to finish the rest of the cleanup along the river.
Washington Closure will continue to operate the massive landfill in central Hanford for low-level radioactive and hazardous chemical waste for a final year.
CH2M Hill is expected to take over operation of the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility after September 2016, but the transition could start sooner.
Washington Closure has been releasing workers as projects are completed, Sax said. It expects to reduce staff from just under 700 workers to about 450 by the end of September 2015 but will not be closing out the contract then.
The 160 employees at the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility eventually will transfer to the new landfill operator.
“It is because of your hard work and excellent performance that we will continue our work in the river corridor,” Sax told employees. “Stay safe, finish strong and be proud of our work.”