DOE official wants Bechtel removed as vit plant design authority

A Department of Energy official overseeing work at Hanford's Waste Treatment Plant says Bechtel National Inc. should be "immediately removed" as the project's design authority.

Gary Brunson, who is the DOE's Engineering Director for the WTP, wrote a memo to DOE leaders detailing 34 technical problems attributed to Bechtel's work.

He states some of the design solutions for the plant have been factually incorrect, not technically viable and flawed, and un-safe.

As a result, Brunson believes Bechtel National Inc. should no longer be in charge of designing the Waste Treatment Plant.

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy says the department is reviewing the memo, and it recognizes there are significant technical challenges to deal with in constructing the plant.

"While we work with the contractor, the department is frustrated in the progress made to date. We're addressing the challenges and we know that to address those effectively, it's gonna require more work by the contractor and strong oversight by the Department of Energy" said Carrie Meyer, Department of Energy spokesperson.

The $12.3 billion plant is being built to convert highly radioactive waste into glass like logs for safe disposal.

Construction is already years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

The project's director, Frank Russo, issued a statement to staff members today about the memo.

He states:

"First, let me say that we are confident that the critically important plant we are designing and building will operate safely and efficiently, while protecting the public, the environment and the co-located worker. Of that I have no doubt.

Based on our initial review, the issues raised in the memo are not new and have been addressed in concert with DOE – some as long as a decade ago. BNI and DOE have jointly addressed and resolved issues throughout the course of the Project, and the solutions have been validated by hundreds of independent experts and external review teams. We know there are still issues to be addressed, which is one reason we are focusing on important efforts such as the recently formed Reliability Validation Process and Technical Issue Resolution teams, and why we continue to welcome the input of external experts and DOE teams.

We have developed an initial set of point-by-point responses to the issues identified in the memo (BNI initial response to 8-23 DOE memo).  I expect that the points may be augmented as we engage in further discussions with employees and others.  I urge your participation in the continuing dialogue about resolution of technical questions, and ask that you engage in the discussions in a respectful and professional manner.  

In the meantime, I ask that each of you continue to do your job with the dedication I see every day. Many of you are responsible for making critical decisions about the project. Our responsibilities are the same today as they were yesterday – to achieve the mission of addressing the real and urgent risk, which is in the aging tanks.  I am confident that together, we will achieve our mission.  Please continue exercising your responsibilities with confidence and the assurance that you are working on a project critical to the long-term safety of millions."

Energy Secretary Steven Chu will be in the Tri-Cities next week to assess the Waste Treatment Plant.

Secretary Chu has assembled a team of experts to review the facility's black cells - which are concrete rooms holding tanks and pipes that will be forever sealed shut once the plant is operational.