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Hanford Contractor Hires New Safety Culture Manager

RICHLAND, Wash. – The main government contractor building the waste treatment plant at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, has hired a new safety culture manager. This move comes after multiple federal reports have criticized the southeast Washington project – some saying that employees feel reluctant to raise concerns with the plant.

Frank Russo is the top manager for government contractor Bechtel on Hanford’s waste treatment plant. He sent a memo to his employees this week saying he’s hiring a new leader focused on the project’s safety culture.

The factory is a one-of-a-kind $12-billion facility meant to treat millions of gallons of radioactive waste. Lately, the project has been the subject of several major reviews by the federal Defense Nuclear Safety Board and the Department of Energy’s office of Health, Safety and Security. Also, the Department of Energy’s Inspector General launched an investigation into whether Bechtel used proper quality-control standards on key equipment installed in the plant.

The new Bechtel hire, Ward Sproat, worked on the Nevada’s Yucca Mountain nuclear long-term storage project.


A note to Bechtel employees sent by Richland Bechtel Manager Frank Russo:

Message from Frank: Follow-up to the recent HSS assessment

In mid-January, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Health, Safety and Security (HSS) issued the results of its assessment of the nuclear safety culture at the Waste Treatment Plant. The HSS report is particularly important because it is from the perspective of DOE. As such, it represents the knowledge and experience of the entire weapons complex. When the report was issued, I promised to keep you informed of actions we would take to respond to it.

In addition to the HSS report, we have received assessments and analyses of NSQC at WTP in the form of the Independent Safety and Quality Culture Assessment Team Report, the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board (DNFSB) Recommendation 2011-1, the DOE’s Implementation Plan for the DNFSB recommendation 2011-1 and the WTP employee survey results.

The importance of all of the reports – and the need to fully understand and address all of the recommendations and opportunities they present – requires us to develop a comprehensive plan of action. I have asked Assistant Project Director for Integration Rick Kacich to develop an integrated plan to address the cumulative significance of the information contained in the HSS report and other reviews.

Rick and Mike Coyle, manager of Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture and Commissioning Support, are developing a comprehensive plan to prioritize actions, provide a framework for traceability from each report to the issues to be addressed, provide a means to track the status of the actions, and enable DOE oversight and coordination of actions, as appropriate.

The HSS report identified that a primary factor affecting WTP’s safety culture was the need to better align engineering and nuclear safety. I am pleased to announce that Ward Sproat has accepted a special assignment from Bechtel Corp. to help define and launch our NSQC improvement efforts. Reporting to me, Ward will join the project on February 21, and will focus his efforts on helping us address this critical alignment issue, as well as provide valued insights into the effectiveness of the comprehensive plan.

Ward is ideally suited for this role. He has spent his professional career in the nuclear industry, and he has been leading nuclear projects for the Power Global Business Unit since joining Bechtel in 2009. Among his accomplishments was his role as the DOE Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM), leading the work of numerous organizations in developing and submitting the Yucca Mountain license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

As director of OCRWM, Ward was responsible for successfully completing submission of the licensing application that has frequently been characterized as the most complex licensing undertaking in the history of the NRC.

Ward is uniquely qualified to help us resolve our design and safety basis alignment issues as we move into the licensing phase of the project and seek to resolve the remaining technical, design and operational issues. Please join me in welcoming Ward and providing him the necessary support while on this critical special assignment.

I’d also like you to join me in thanking Mike for his efforts in re-energizing our nuclear safety and quality culture. Mike has announced his retirement at the end of March. Rick Kacich will become the senior project manager responsible directly to me for managing WTP’s NSQC program. Mike will continue to provide Rick with his expert assistance during the transition.

During his tenure, Mike conducted an analysis of the gaps in our NSQC program, developed formal plans and policies to address NSQC requirements and established the NSQC monitoring panel. As a result of his leadership, we will be able to implement the actions necessary for a nuclear safety and quality culture at WTP that is second-to-none in the DOE system.

We are fortunate to have had someone of Mike’s caliber helping us navigate through the critical functions of a strong NSQC and contributing to the DOE complex-wide efforts to learn from the WTP experience.

I’ll keep you informed as we implement our plan to further strengthen our nuclear safety and quality culture for the WTP.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio

Photo courtesy of Bechtel.

Ward Sproat.]

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