RICHLAND, Wash. – Federal and state officials announced this week that construction can partially resume at Hanford’s massive waste treatment plant now that some technical problems have been resolved. But a top former Hanford manager is calling for the Secretary of Energy to halt work altogether on the southeast Washington project. Correspondent Anna King has more.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu slowed work at parts of Hanford’s waste treatment plant last summer. He wanted to give a group of hand-picked experts time to look at the plant’s thorny design issues. This week Chu and former Governor Chris Gregoire said the solution is to bypass problem areas of the plant in order to get some other major parts treating radioactive waste by 2019.
But now, Gary Brunson, a former top government engineering director on the project, has asked Chu to halt work on the entire $12 billion facility. Brunson left the Energy department at Hanford about two weeks ago. His parting memo listed several problems that he thinks are not being addressed.
He argues that vessels used to hold and mix radioactive waste aren’t strong enough. And that certain calculations in the plant’s design that have been tested indicate a quote “systemic breakdown in quality.”
Meanwhile, Ken Niles — head of the nuclear safety division for Oregon’s Department of Energy — complains that Secretary Chu’s team has done most of its work behind closed doors, and hasn’t released any substantial findings to the public.