A Department of Energy review has found more quality assurance issues at the Waste Treatment Plant being built at the Hanford Site in Washington state.
Quality records “needed to demonstrate that the important-to-safety structural steel could perform its safety function were either missing or of indeterminate quality,” according to a March 6 letter from DOE’s Office of River Protection to Bechtel National, the contractor building the plant that will treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste stored at Hanford.
The letter emphasized the issue was serious – “potentially unrecoverable” – as structural steel must provide support for major systems operated at the plant as it begins treating radioactive waste as soon as 2021.
Bechtel said Friday company officials had met with DOE officials and “notified them we have identified and addressed the paperwork mentioned in the letter.” In a statement, the company said the safety and quality of the structural steel was never in question.
“The need to confirm receipt of appropriate documentation had been previously identified by Bechtel and was being actively worked,” according to Bechtel. “We have documentation that demonstrates the nuclear-grade structural steel meets project requirements. We are completing our review of the documentation for a few remaining commercial-grade steel items.”
In a separate statement, DOE said when it receives the documentation from Bechtel it will determine whether it meets quality assurance standards for the steel being used at the vitrification plant. Within 30 calendar days, Bechtel must give DOE results of an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the procurement and paperwork of the materials installed in the plant, the controls implemented, and the action plan to correct conditions. The work falls within the existing contract, and Bechtel may not charge any additional costs for it, the letter said.
The letter was obtained and distributed by watchdog group Hanford Challenge, which called the issue “a serious programmatic failure.”