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Hanford union raises concerns with waste treatment plant

The Pretreatment Facility being built by Bechtel as part of Hanford's Vitrification.
The Pretreatment Facility being built by Bechtel as part of Hanford's Vitrification.

Hanford contractors are welding the lids onto massive waste mixing tanks later this week. That’s despite serious concerns being raised by engineers at the plant in southeast Washington. A labor union that represents those workers has asked for a work stoppage and filed a formal grievance.

Rick McNulty leads a union of engineers and scientists at Hanford. Many work on the massive plant being built to treat millions of gallons of radioactive waste. McNulty’s formal grievance says recent technical reports say the large mixing tanks in the factory won’t work. He’s especially concerned with the tanks' mixers and that reinforcing plates are not strong enough to prevent leaking. And now he believes contractor Bechtel is welding the tanks too soon.

“What’s at stake is that you’ll build a $12 billion albatross, you’ll turn on and you’ll have to turn off," he says. "You’ll never treat any waste. Because these tanks are critical … if they fail the plant goes down.”

Bechtel spokeswoman Suzanne Heaston says delaying the project is a greater risk than pushing ahead and modifying the vessels later if the design proves to be insufficient. She says the tanks won’t be installed until the design is accepted by the Department of Energy.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.