Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Bechtel Cited For Safety Violations on Hanford Waste Treatment Plant
The Energy Daily
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Adding to the woes of the already troubled project, the Energy Department last week proposed a $198,000 fine against Bechtel National Inc. for multiple safety violations in the development of the massive high-level radioactive waste treatment plant that the contractor is building at DOE’s Hanford site in eastern Washington.
The preliminary notice of violation cited a host of violationsoccurring over the period between May 2002 and September 2005 that contributed to major delays in the multi-billion-dollar project, which has been struggling to resolve questions about its structural integrity and ability to withstand projected earthquakes, among other issues.
DOEsaid the violations at the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) include failure to abide by design codes documented in facility safety requirements; failure to abide by inspection requirements for radioactive waste processing vessels; failure to utilize correct suppliers to fabricate certain components; and calculation errors resulting in inconsistencies in structural steel design requirements.
The department said the proposed penalty could have been as large as $330,000, but was reduced due to aggressive corrective actions taken by Bechtel to prevent recurrence of the problems.
In particular, DOE officials praised Bechtel’s forthright acknowledge-ment that many of the safety violations resulted from a "less than adequate nuclear safety and quality culture" among WTP employees.
"It is our belief that if this broader issue is not fully addressed, similar weaknesses will likely manifest themselves in almost every other area of your operations," said Stephen Sohinki, director of DOE’s Office of Price-Anderson Enforcement, in a March 16 letter to Jim Henschel, Bechtel’s WTP project director, detailing the safety violations.
Sohinki noted that at a February 7 conference with Bechtel on the safety violations, the contractor said that its initiatives to improve the safety and quality culture would be fully implemented by June.
However, Sohinki said that, "recognizing that significant improvement in nuclear safety culture at WTP will take time," DOE officials view Bechtel’s initiatives as simply a first step in the process to bring about improved safety practices on the project.
Consequently, Sohinki said his office wanted to meet with Bechtel sometime in June to check on progress and see what further steps should be taken to improve the safety culture. "At that meeting, you should be prepared to discuss compensatory actions taken and planned to assure that work can continue to be done safely while the acknowledged safety culture issues at WTP are addressed," he said.
While blaming Bechtel for poor safety culture, the DOE safety citation also indirectly acknowledged that the department’s effort to fast-track the design and construction of the first-of-its-kind WTP project contributed to the safety issues. Notably, Bechtel was cited for "schedule pressure-induced violations," where Bechtel engineers cut corners on documentation in order to meet schedule milestones set by DOE.
I attended a recent Senate hearing where this issue was discussed and there was significant concern about DOE's inability to manage large projects. The WTP in question was stated to be the largest construction project ever handled.
The post above notes the schedule pressure placed on the contractor. The similarities to the WPSS project in Washington State back in the 1970s (nuclear power) are interesting.
Anyway, the blame for this mismanagement lies somewhat on the contractor, but much more-so on the DOE itself
The question should be how safe are the employees of LANS going to be in all of their practices? Will they be happy employees or remain sour about this entire transition therefore becoming less then desirable employees for the job at hand. If for some reason you feel that you are going to hold a grudge or continue festering on the past, then maybe leaving the system is the best for all concerned. You now have until April 14th to perform a self evaluation and to assess your future value to the company. I would think by now you’d have the answer to this question, but if you don’t here is something to think about.
Are you going to be an asset or a hindrance to the new corporation and above all are you going to be happy, energetic and self motivated while on the job site. One must realize that your job encompasses approximately 33.3% of your life and the other 66.6% is spent on eight hours of sleep at which time you are basically comatose and accomplishing nothing, leaving you eight hours to do as you wish. So realistically out of a 60 year life span only 20 years of that time was actually yours to do as you please.
So think about it. If you hate you job you’ll probably spend 33.3% bitching, 33.3% comatose if not restless thinking about ways of revenge, and the other 33.3% making other people unhappy because you are unhappy.
If only the light bulb would have come on fifty years ago.