Report: Safety probed at Wash. nuke-waste plant

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A federal investigation has found that a California company might have committed a wide range of safety and health violations at a plant it is building in Washington state to treat high-level radioactive waste, a published report said Wednesday.

The Energy Department halted construction at the Hanford, Wash., plant earlier this year in light of allegations involving serious design and construction flaws, the Los Angeles Times reported ( http://lat.ms/10fuVs6).

The plant being built by San Francisco-based Bechtel National Inc. will treat an estimated 56 million gallons of radioactive waste created from about half a century of nuclear weapons production.

The waste is stored in underground tanks. At least some of those tanks are leaking radioactive sludge, posing a threat to the nearby Columbia River and making the $12 billion Hanford plant one of the most urgent environmental projects in the nation.

The agency report obtained by the Times said Bechtel failed to follow procedures, train workers and correct items that did not meet requirements. The problems included corrosion in pipes and containers.

The probe adds weight to concerns voiced earlier by scientists about the design of a sophisticated mixing and filtering system that would condense radioactive waste so it can be cast into solid glass for long-term storage.

Bechtel officials denied serious problems exist and said the investigation report is an "interim step."

In a letter to Bechtel officials, the Energy Department said it would schedule a conference to discuss the findings and a possible civil fine.

An Energy Department spokesman told the newspaper the report was an "initial internal investigation" on Bechtel's compliance with federal safety rules.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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