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Scathing Assessment of Hanford Shows VIT Plant Way Behind Schedule – Calls Project “Dysfunctional”

Radioactive Waste Cleanup Continues At Hanford Nuclear Reservation
(Photo by Jeff T. Green/Getty Images)

In the wake of recent delays, safety concerns and allegations of whistleblower retaliations, a new article claims the Hanford VIT plant is a mess.

The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit, non-advocacy journalism group, has published an article saying the Hanford VIT plant has become “it’s own dysfunctional mess.”

Rebecca LaFlure, writing for the Center, says progress on the project has been slow,  it’s budget has run way beyond what was expected, “and a long-running technical dispute has sown ill will between the project’s senior engineering staff, the Energy Department, and its lead contractors.”

LaFlure says some lawmakers believe the plant has turned into an early test for new DOE Secretary Ernest Muniz as to whether he can turn around the problem-plagued department, and take charge of it’s faltering projects. Critics also accuse DOE of not taking action while several whistle-blowers were dismissed from the site.

Critics and independent groups claim the cleanup has become more about meeting deadlines and personality clashes than about getting the process finished.

According to these independent groups, writes LaFlure:

 “…DOE and contractor officials overseeing the project created a workplace climate that discourages employees from raising technical and safety concerns.

…They say that project supervisors have relentlessly pushed over the past two years to shorten testing and “close” technical issues by deadlines, meeting their benchmarks to gain financial rewards, even though the problems are not fully resolved. A DOE spokesperson, Carrie Meyer, responded that “closing” a problem only means that a decision has been made to move forward with a credible solution.”

In addition, the article documents at least three whistle-blowers who called attention to potential safety concerns with parts of the design.    One of these, Walter Tomasaitis,  was a 44-year veteran of the Hanford area, who was laid off by sub-contractor URS, allegedly for raising concerns about design issues.

As Newstalk 870 reported recently, perhaps the core issue behind the delays, disputes over design and technology at the plant, stem from the uncertainty of what is being dealt with.  Unlike other VIT plants in France and the U.S.,  this plant will have to deal with toxic elements that have never been seen before.   This VIT plant will have to process combinations of chemical and radioactive waste that have never occurred in nature, and it’s not completely known who they will react, or if vitrification will be 100% successful.

What IS known is that 25 years after it’s initial conception, the VIT plant is now at least a decade behind.   The original plan called for glassifying waste by 2011,  the deadline has now been extended for the 66% completed plant to 2019, with final waste completion by 2047.


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