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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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CH2M Hill adds 300 employees, takes on more Hanford work

Tribune News Service

About 300 Hanford workers become employees of CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. or its subcontractors Aug. 29.

After 11 years, Hanford Washington Closure is wrapping up its contract at the Hanford nuclear reservation at the end of September and has done its last work in the field.

At its peak in 2012, with the help of economic stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Washington Closure employed about 1,200 workers. On Aug. 29, its work force drops to just fewer than 100.

The number of employees is expected to decline through September to about 30 people, who will remain for several months in a contract closeout office working on audits, documenting completed projects and finishing up other paperwork.

All but about a dozen employees not joining the closeout office have other Hanford jobs lined up or plan to retire, with the last dozen still looking for work, said Peter Bengtson of Washington Closure.

Washington Closure has known since its contract was awarded that its goal was to complete most cleanup of Hanford in 220 square miles along the Columbia River, an area called the river corridor.

Unlike other Hanford cleanup contracts, the contract was awarded as a “closure” contract, with the intention of closing out work rather than awarding a new contract to continue the cleanup as the contract expired.

As many river corridor projects have been completed and work has ramped down in the past three years, Washington Closure has helped place 94 percent of departing workers in other jobs at Hanford or elsewhere, Bengtson said.

The contract would have ended in September 2015, but a one-year extension was added to the original 10-year term to continue work on two particularly challenging projects.

One of those, the 324 Building and the highly radioactive spill discovered beneath it, was transferred to CH2M Hill in the spring.

The other, remaining environmental cleanup of the high-hazard 618-10 Burial Ground, transfers to CH2M Hill Aug. 29.

CH2M Hill also takes over operation of the huge, lined landfill in central Hanford for low-activity radioactive waste and hazardous chemical waste – the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility – which Washington Closure has operated for use by any Hanford cleanup contractor.

Washington Closure’s original $1.8 billion contract grew to about $3 billion. The increase included about $400 million of additional work added to the contract by the Department of Energy and about $600 million in work as some projects turned out to be far larger or more challenging than anticipated.

For example, DOE had Washington Closure chase some chromium contamination down to groundwater 85 feet deep, not far from the Columbia River. Holes were so large they had to be engineered like open-pit mines.

But the deep dig to remove contaminated soil protected Columbia River water from a form of chromium that can cause cancer in humans and is particularly toxic to fish, including spawning salmon.

Washington Closure says it completed its work $320 million below estimated costs, allowing that money to be used for additional environmental cleanup work.

Among work it completed was cleaning up 614 waste sites, tearing down 324 buildings (some of them heavily contaminated), hauling 11.6 million tons of debris and contaminated soil to the central Hanford landfill, and “cocooning” two Hanford production reactors.

Hanford’s production reactors are torn down to little more than their radioactive core, sealed up and reroofed to allow radiation to decay over 70 years to more manageable levels.

It completed the work with one of the best safety records in the DOE complex, Bengtson said. It has not had an accident that caused a lost day of work due to injury for more than three and a half years, despite the stress of employees who knew they were working themselves out of a job.

“We’re giving PRC (CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.) some great workers who performed really well,” Bengtson said.

CH2M Hill, which employed about 1,400 workers before Aug. 29, will hire about 87 Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council workers and about 58 nonunion workers. About 65 building trades workers from Washington Closure will be hired by a CH2M Hill subcontractor.

In addition, about 90 Washington Closure subcontractor workers will be hired for CH2M Hill projects, include those working at the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility.

Some landfill workers had been laid off several months ago, as Washington Closure wrapped up some of its cleanup work and the volume of material sent to the landfill dropped.

CH2M Hill is Hanford’s central plateau contractor, responsible for central Hanford cleanup – other than Hanford’s underground waste storage tanks – and for groundwater cleanup across the site. It also is responsible for Hanford’s K Reactors, where work is planned to remove highly radioactive sludge from storage near the Columbia River.

“CH2M appreciates the confidence DOE has in our ability to complete the remaining River Corridor Closure Contract scope,” CH2M Hill said in a statement.

CH2M Hill is reviewing the plan developed for the 324 Building, including the spill beneath it. Some 21 Washington Closure workers on that project joined CH2M Hill in April.

At the 618-10 Burial Ground, Washington Closure recently finished demolishing 80 vertically buried pipes filled with research waste, some of it highly radioactive, and loaded out the waste from about 32 of the buried pipe units.

CH2M Hill will demolish 14 of the vertically buried pipes left for last because they were made of thick-walled steel and load out the remainder of the waste from the pipes. It will be responsible for excavating any remaining debris buried in trenches close to the pipes and then backfilling and replanting the 618-10 Burial Ground, which is six miles north of Richland.

“We would like to congratulate Washington Closure Hanford on its successful execution of river corridor cleanup, which significantly advance Hanford’s mission,” CH2M Hill said.

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