Federal audit: part of Hanford cleanup mishandled

Feb 23, 2011

The federal government mishandled the cleanup of the dangerous Hanford K-Basins near the Columbia River. The mistakes cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Those are some of the conclusions of a federal Inspector General report.

The K-Basins are massive swimming pool-like tanks that held 100,000 radioactive uranium rods. The basins are near the Columbia River and have leaked in the past. Some of those rods turned into sludge from sitting underwater for so long.

In its recent audit, the Inspector General says that the federal Department of Energy botched the job of cleaning up that sludge from 2004 through 2007. The project was complicated, challenging and dangerous.

But the report says a subcontractor called Fluor Hanford didn't do enough testing and planning. Then, too late researchers found in a laboratory that the sludge cleanup process the contractors devised wouldn't work.

After about $43 million were spent over three years, the sludge still sits in the basin and the technology constructed to clean it up isn't being used.

The audit says Hanford managers appear to be taking these lessons-learned seriously, and have been working to improve project management.