A recent Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Inspector General (IG) report has criticized the agency’s management of a project plan to treat radioactive sludge at the Hanford, Washington, site near Richland. Charged with retrieving, processing and shipping sludge from Hanford to New Mexico for disposal at an estimated cost of $104 million, the plan was cancelled in 2007 after $43 million was spent on engineering and equipment. New estimates put the cost at almost $175 million to move the sludge to another facility, not including the cost of storing the sludge at an interim facility or the expense of treating and packaging the waste for disposal.
The report criticizes DOE for not effectively managing the project and failing to adequately manage a contract with the subcontractor retained to implement it. The IG also states that DOE did not properly mitigate project risk in the selection of treatment technology, thereby spending $43 million to engineer and procure a modular system to treat and package the sludge, which system was later abandoned.
The report recommends that on this and future projects DOE (i) ensure that project management requirements are appropriately applied, including the planning and early design phase; (ii) ensure “that the site fully documents the analysis supporting key nuclear safety decisions”; (iii) improve “contract administration by ensuring adequate government involvement in the technical and procurement strategies proposed by contractors”; and (iv) evaluate “the costs questioned in the IG report and take[ ] any necessary action to recover unallowable costs, as appropriate.”