The DOE and the mystery of the lost $15 Mil at a Nuclear Waste Site

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According to a draft report of a Department of Energy Inspector General audit, the  DOE might have overpaid contractor Bechtel National for some work related to black cell tanks or vessels, the draft said. No records of the meeting or Bechtel’s repayment of the fee could be found, and DOE officials were uncertain if the fee had been repaid, the draft report said.

Bechtel was paid $15 million in 2003 for a vessel in the vitrification plant, the draft report said. The $12.2 billion plant is being built to treat radioactive waste left from weapons plutonium production for permanent disposal.  It turns out, that the DOE’s oversight was not adequate to identify weaknesses in the quality assurance program.

Bechtel employed inspectors at its suppliers’ locations to witness work and approve quality assurance record packages, the draft report said. However, the on-site inspectors lacked the qualifications to interpret tests of nuclear-quality welds as required in Bechtel’s contract, the draft report said.

“To its credit, the department took prompt action on some of the issues identified during our audit,” the draft report said.

DOE looks forward to continued improvement, said Lori Gamache, DOE spokeswoman.

When the DOE learned a vessel lacked adequate quality assurance records in 2004, it demanded that $15 million be returned, the draft report said.  “Without improvements to the quality assurance process and acquiring the necessary quality assurance records, the department may not be able to demonstrate that the (vitrification plant) facilities are safe,”

In addition, the draft report found that a second $15 million payment was made to Bechtel in 2005 for four vessels, one of which was found to lack adequate quality assurance records after it was installed, the draft report said.

However, a different performance fee criteria applied that prevented DOE from recovering money paid to Bechtel after the vessel had been installed.

Bechtel expects to complete its fact checking of the draft report today and will comment when a final report is released, said Bechtel spokeswoman Suzanne Heaston.

Source: Tri-City Herald

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