Energy Secretary Steven Chu plans to visit Hanford in June to hold a town hall and other meetings to discuss safety issues with vitrification plant workers.
No date has been set, but the visit is being planned, said Matthew Moury, a Department of Energy deputy assistant secretary, during a presentation to the House Nuclear Cleanup Caucus on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. He discussed safety, including nuclear safety culture and technical issues that could affect safe operations of the vitrification plant.
This was the first time a caucus briefing has been organized to focus specifically on safety, but it seemed appropriate based on issues at Hanford, said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. He organizes the briefings each spring to educate congressional leaders and their staff about environmental cleanup at DOE sites, including Hanford.
The safety culture at the vitrification plant became an issue in summer 2010 when Walter Tamosaitis, the former research and technology manager for the plant, outlined concerns in a letter to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
Since then, the defense board has issued a recommendation to DOE on nuclear safety culture to make sure that workers feel free to raise technical concerns about the plant’s design and construction that could affect its future safe and efficient operations and that concerns are considered and addressed.
There also has been a focus on unresolved technical concerns at the plant, which has a design that is 85 percent complete.
In the defense board’s letter to Congress this month on the status of significant unresolved issues on DOE construction projects, it listed five technical safety issues at the vitrification plant. The $12.2 billion plant is being built to treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste left from past production of weapons plutonium.
Efforts are under way to improve the safety culture at the vitrification plant, Moury said.
DOE also recognizes that changing the safety culture will take sustained effort by senior management, he said.
“We have to constantly reinforce it or it will spring back,” he said.