An agreement for Bechtel National to pay $800,000 to the federal government last month has been anonymously entered in the Hanford court-enforced consent decree case now being considered in federal court.
The payment and completion of several steps Bechtel has agreed to take through 2016 effectively ends a series of investigations that began in late 2011, according to the agreement.
At issue were questions about whether safety was being integrated into the design because of inconsistencies between early safety analyses and later work.
There also were concerns about inadequate welds in tanks that would hold radioactive waste and the adequacy of programs to assure quality and make improvements when problems are found.
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The agreement between Bechtel and the DOE Office of Enforcement did not include a finding of a violation by Bechtel after Bechtel analyzed the causes of issues being investigated and took action to correct problems. Bechtel reported the issues, the DOE contractor said.
Corrective actions also were identified by Bechtel and are well under way, said Bechtel spokesman Todd Nelson.
The DOE Office of Enforcement found after investigations in 2011 and 2012 that Bechtel failed to maintain its safety analyses approved a decade ago as technical issues have been raised at the plant. That has allowed inconsistencies between the safety analyses in the design to exist, in some cases, for years, the agreement said.
The vitrification plant is being built to turn up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste from the past production of weapons plutonium into a stable glass form for disposal.
Problems with tank welds were identified by Bechtel in 2012 when a tank was shipped to Hanford with problems, including a misaligned head and shell, according to the agreement. That led to the identification of other areas of concern, including inadequacies in Bechtel’s procedures and training requirements related to the design and fabrication of tanks.
An inspection of welds on additional tanks found more problems.
A DOE Office of Inspector General audit confirmed problems, finding that tanks already installed in the plant did not always meet quality assurance or contract requirements.
The Office of Enforcement then became concerned that the welding deficiencies appeared to be symptomatic of broader issues with the vitrification plant programs for quality assurance and corrective action management.
The agreement reached between DOE and Bechtel requires it to take all steps needed to ensure safety in the plant’s design by revising procedures and restructuring its organization by the end of this year.
It will have nine months to report to Hanford DOE officials on the results of a review of welds and documentation of the welds in tanks that will hold high-level radioactive waste.
It also will complete actions to restore its quality assurance and corrective action management programs to full effectiveness by spring 2016.
The anonymous letter that submitted the agreement to the federal judge considering new consent decree deadlines and requirements for the Hanford vitrification plant raised concerns that previous agreements and enforcement letters had failed to get the project on track.
The agreement also is posted online by the Office of Enforcement at 1.usa.gov/1Ilidec.