Hanford Cleanup
6:19 am
Wed August 29, 2012

Chief Engineer Blasts Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant Design and Construction

Another top-level engineer at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has stepped forward airing serious concerns about the site’s massive waste treatment plant.

In a newly-released memo, the chief engineer charges there are serious problems with Bechtel National’s design and construction of the plant. And that the company should be taken off key portions of the project. Correspondent Anna King reports.

Gary Brunson is the Chief of Engineering for the U.S. Department of Energy at Hanford. His more than 20 page memo was selectively released to the press this week by the Department.

In the memo, Brunson describes 34 instances and technical issues where he says Bechtel has made bad decisions: From overcharging taxpayers to an overall flawed plant design.

In one instance in his memo, Brunson says the bad plant design could release poisonous gases in “fatal concentrations in a matter of seconds” when workers are in the plant.

Brunson could not be reached for comment but Carrie Meyer speaking for the Department of Energy says the Department is taking these strong allegations seriously. In a prepared statement she read:

Meyer: “… We are continuing to work with Bechtel to address the ongoing technical issues that we have. Even as we work together to pursue solutions, however, the Department continues to be frustrated with the lack of progress. Addressing these challenges effectively will require both additional work by the contractor, as well as improved oversight by the Department.”

The memo by Brunson is just the latest in a string of discontent and hand wringing by top-level managers and engineers who have gone public after they say they’ve been ignored by their management superiors. Walter Tamosaitis, Donna Busche and Don Alexander are all people who have raised concerns at top levels and some of those concerns are still being investigated by the federal government.

Frank Russo is Bechtel’s contract manager for the plant. He’s says there will always be disagreements on large projects like this, but he says you have to move forward to get the job done.

Bottom line: He says it doesn’t make sense for Bechtel to do a shoddy job.

“There is no utility in it at all for a company like Bechtel, or the Department of Energy, or URS, to want to build something inferior,” Russo says.

Brunson’s memo is now being reviewed by the Department of Energy, the federal watchdog the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board and the Hanford Advisory Board.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio

Full statement by the U.S. Department of Energy:

"The Energy Department is currently reviewing the memo sent by Gary Brunson. We recognize there are significant technical challenges remaining at the Waste Treatment Plant, some of which have existed for many years. The Department takes seriously its role overseeing the safe design and delivery of the Waste Treatment Plant, and is continuing to work with Bechtel to address the ongoing technical issues. Even as we work together to pursue solutions, however, the Department continues to be frustrated with the lack of progress. Addressing these challenges effectively will require both additional work by the contractor, as well as improved oversight by the Department. It's also important to note that the successful completion of this important project depends on employees continuing to be able to freely raise concerns."