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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

$45 billion Hanford nuclear waste cleanup contract awarded to a new company

A Hanford Nuclear Site worker on the job in 1994.  (Oregonian archives)
By Annette Cary Tri-City Herald

RICHLAND – The Department of Energy has awarded a Hanford site contract with an estimated value of up to $45 billion over a decade to a newly formed limited liability company.

The winning bidder is Hanford Tank Waste Operations and Closure of Lynchburg, Va.

The company is made up of BWXT Technical Services Group, Amentum Environment and Energy, and Fluor Federal Services.

The new contract marks a transition to a new era at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

The new firm will operate the Hanford vitrification plant, under construction since 2002 to turn radioactive waste into a solid glass form.

It also will manage waste in underground tanks, which now is done under a separate DOE contract.

DOE calls the tank waste the nation’s largest financial and environmental risk.

Bechtel National will continue construction, startup and commissioning of the vit plant, formally named the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.

Contractor responsibilities

The new contractor, already nicknamed H2C, will operate the plant as its commissioning is completed to prepare it to start treating the least radioactive waste in underground tanks.

H2C also will be responsible for core functions of the plant, including project management, security, emergency services, and safety and quality.

The 580-square-mile Hanford site in Eastern Washington adjacent to Richland was used from World War II through the Cold War to produce nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

The work left 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste stored in underground tanks, many of them prone to leaking.

The plant is planned to vitrify much of that waste to turn it into a stable glass form for permanent disposal.

After technical issues needed to be resolved on parts of the plant treating high level radioactive waste, DOE switched to a plan to separate out some of the least radioactive waste, called low activity waste, and start treating it as work continues to prepare to treat high level waste.

DOE had planned to start operating the plant to vitrify low activity waste at the end of this year, but now says it may be the end of 2024

A deadline for treating low activity waste by the end of this year was set in a federal court consent decree, but then extended due to work delays during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new contractor will take over work at the tank farms from Washington River Protection Solutions, an Amentum led company, with a 120-day transition period starting immediately.

Washington River Protection Solutions has held the expiring contract for tank farm work since 2008 and has been given several short-term contract extensions.

Traditionally, most employees of Hanford companies with expiring contracts are hired by the new contract with only leadership changing.

The current tank farm contractor employs about 2,300 workers and relies on an additional 300 subcontractor workers.

No workforce impacts are expected if stable funding for the Hanford site continues as expected, according to DOE. The agency described the benefits that workers would receive under the new contract as competitive and comparable to current benefits.

Work at the tank farms includes emptying waste from 149 leak-prone single shell tanks into 27 newer double-shell tanks for storage until it can be treated for disposal and also eventually permanently closing the tanks.

Work also includes separating out low activity waste from the waste mixture in the tanks to feed to the vitrification plant’s Low Activity Waste Facility to glassify it for disposal.

Contractor history at Hanford

The new contractor is teaming with four subcontractors on the work: DBD, DSS Sustainable Solutions USA, Intera, and Longenecker and Associates. A portion of the contract’s work must be subcontracted to small businesses.

The new contract requires a commitment to community activities in nearby cities and the counties surrounding the site. Parts of the site are in Benton, Franklin and Grant counties.

The activities could include educational outreach programs, regional purchasing programs and other community support, according to DOE.

H2C will be required to subcontract 18% of work under its contract to small businesses, but those do not have to be Eastern Washington businesses.

Amentum already has a strong presence at Hanford as the owner of the current tank farm contractor with Atkins, leading the Central Plateau Cleanup Co. team and as the primary subcontractor at the vitrification plant construction and commissioning project.

BWXT was awarded the environmental management contract for DOE’s Savannah River, S.C., site in 2021.

Fluor is best known at Hanford for being the site’s main cleanup contractor from 1996 to 2008. It also is a partner with Amentum on the Central Plateau Cleanup Co. contract, which is responsible for most environmental cleanup at Hanford other than tank waste.

In May 2020, DOE awarded a 10 year, $13 billion contract to manage Hanford tank waste to a team headed by BWXT and Fluor with primary subcontractors Intera and DBD. It did not include the vitrification plant work.

But after appeals were filed to the Government Accountability Office over the choice of the new tank contracting team, DOE canceled the contract award.

One appeal was filed by a company owned by Aecom, Fluor and Atkins and the other by a company owned by Jacobs Government Services Co.

The GAO dismissed the appeals, but DOE voluntarily decided to address an issue raised in the appeal and canceled the contract.

In February 2021, it announced that it would instead seek a contractor for both vitrification plant operations and the management of the tank farms. Then it estimated the value of the new contract at $26.5 million over a decade.

The new contract uses DOE’s “end state” contracting model, under which DOE awards a contract and then negotiates specific tasks to be completed.

Under the contracting model, tasks may be paid for either through the traditional Hanford method of reimbursing costs and paying incentive fees to allow the contractor to profit or by offering a fixed price for completion of work, shifting financial risk to the contractor.

The tasks will focus on providing the most reduction of risk and taxpayer costs and advancing environmental cleanup, DOE said in 2021.