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Nuclear Disaster in the US: How Bechtel Is Botching the World's Costliest Environmental Cleanup

Department of Energy scientists are alleging catastrophic mismanagement of massive cleanup efforts at Hanford, the former nuclear weapons outpost.

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Last fall, the pulse jet mixers were welded inside the non-Newtonian vessels, but the tops were not sealed shut. Despite opposition from Alexander and other scientists, this portion of the project was pushed forward by Bechtel and DOE management. "I raised issues within DOE, but Bechtel was convinced these pulse jet mixers would work," Alexander says. "The result was that Bechtel was able to get DOE management to sign off on welding the mixers within the vessels."

Once the weld heads encapsulate what studies show to be defective pulse jet mixers, years of research and development will be wasted and billions more will have to be spent to fix what could have been prevented, contends McNulty.

Russo would not submit to an interview with  Seattle Weekly. Instead, Bechtel spokesperson Suzanne Heaston sent the following statement via e-mail: "Assuming the vessel mixing systems work as designed, welding the heads on now will save taxpayers significant cost and avoid delays in treatment of the waste in the tank farm . . . If further testing associated with the mitigation actions determines that they will not perform adequately and operational controls are not adequate, design changes could be required. The timing of the welding of the heads on the vessels is a management decision to proceed . . . The potential costs of potential rework are less than the known costs of delay."

In other words, even though no small-scale tests have ever shown that the pulse jet mixers will work properly, Bechtel, with the DOE's blessing, will still move forward with welding the heads to the tops of the vessels.

Such illogic mystifies Tamosaitis, a systems engineer who has been employed for more than 40 years by Bechtel subcontractor URS. "So Bechtel charges ahead, welds the heads on [the non-Newtonian vessels], and then waits for the answers that will tell how the tanks need to be changed," he says in response to Bechtel's statement. "What then? Cut the heads off the tanks? Start over building new tanks? Wow. That sounds like a low-cost approach."

In an additional e-mail sent August 2, Alexander writes of how Bechtel management disregarded his early report that their design for the pulse jet mixers was flawed: "In the spring I raised a series of concerns with respect to the performance of the non-Newtonian vessels. Because I raised the issue, Frank Russo directed me to write my issues in a paper over the Easter weekend and deliver the paper on Monday April 5, 2010 . . . As a consequence the [Bechtel] manager labeled my issues as the 'non- Newtonian curve-ball.' Since when are DOE staff supposed to take direction from Contractor management? . . . Mr. Russo also directed Dr. Walter Tamosaitis to gather as many top flight PhDs as possible together to discredit my paper. I requested that my paper receive appropriate peer review but that request was denied. Walt had trouble even assembling a team. Walt knew that my issues were technically correct and he never submitted a counter paper."

Shortly after he refused to counter Alexander's internal paper warning about the problems with the pulse jet mixer design, Tamosaitis blew his own whistle, exposing what he saw as safety failures at WTP and citing concerns that the pulse jet mixer design issues would prohibit the plant from operating correctly. As a result, Tamosaitis says he was removed from the project; Bechtel and URS both deny that they removed Tamosaitis because he raised safety concerns.

"The drive to stay on schedule is putting the whole [WTP] project at risk," Tamosaitis contends. " 'Not on my watch' is a standard mantra among [DOE and Contract] management who like to intimidate naysayers like me. These guys would rather deal with major issues down the road than fix them up front . . . Cost and schedule performance trump sound science time and again."

 
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