Read the entire Bechtel and URS letter to employees

Jul 28, 2011

A message from Frank Russo, WTP Project Director, and Bill Gay, WTP Deputy Project Director

Fellow WTP employees,

Over the past several weeks, there have been reports about the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Hanford Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) Project that question our project’s safety culture and resolution of technical design issues, and that suggest cost and schedule objectives are favored over technical risk and safety. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

 SAFETY

WTP’s safety culture is strong. Our systems and processes for soliciting issues have enabled employees to bring to our attention more than 10,000 issues, questions, opportunities or concerns in the past two years alone; all have been carefully evaluated in an objective and transparent manner. Project objectives, including cost and schedule, are only achieved when a transparent culture underpins the project. We thank you for your willingness to raise issues and for being an active partner in ensuring project safety at WTP. Safety has and always will be paramount to the success of the WTP Project.

As you are aware, there have been media reports and public discussion regarding allegations by Walter Tamosaitis regarding safety concerns and management practices at WTP. Although the case is in active litigation, and we are therefore limited in our ability to make comments, we want to make it clear that Bechtel National and URS strongly disagree with and are vigorously contesting Tamosaitis’ retaliation claim and all related allegations of wrongdoing.

Tamosaitis was not fired. He remains employed by URS. He was given advanced notice that his assignment was approaching its end-date (a standard industry practice for projects like WTP), and he was in discussions with URS about other project locations for his reassignment. Upon delay of the reassignment process, he was moved to the URS corporate office where the reassignment could be best completed.

After moving to the corporate office, Tamosaitis took a list of safety and operational issues his team developed in response to a request by WTP management for all technical staff to identify potential issues, and made them the basis for his whistleblower allegations. All issues identified by his and other teams in this process were accepted for review, tracking and resolution.

ACHIEVING THE DOE MISSION

There is a common concern regarding our collective understanding of the variations of waste we might encounter from the aging waste tanks in Hanford. Because no one knows the exact waste characteristics of every gallon of this waste, the plant has been designed to handle a very wide array of waste characteristics. Hundreds of experts from government, industry and academia confirm that WTP’s current design will safely treat the vast majority of the waste. We will learn even more as we operate WTP, and feedback from the operation will help us determine how best to treat the waste for which we have less confidence.

Nonetheless, some project detractors suggest interrupting construction to pursue a design that might handle 100 percent of every imaginable type of waste. Such action would delay treatment by many years, while the risk from the radioactive waste in the tanks continued to grow year after year. This is not in the best interest of the project or the nation.

More than $500 million and 10 years have been committed to getting the science right. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure we can remain confident in the science and that WTP will safely and efficiently make glass.

We have also heard accusations that it is in Bechtel’s and URS’ financial interest to imprudently hurry the project. This is false and illogical. As cost-reimbursable contractors, we would actually earn more revenue by performing years of additional research and testing and redesign and reconstruction. But that is not the way we work, and it’s not who we are. We are dedicated to our client’s missions, and for WTP that means moving the project forward because safely achieving the mission is the only measure of success.

Bechtel and URS corporations have long and proud histories of accomplishing highly complex projects. We earned our reputations by holding safety as a core value and delivering projects that operated as intended and fulfilled their missions.

OUR MISSION

Today, 56 million gallons of the most radioactive waste in the U.S. sits in 177 huge and aging tanks near the Columbia River – and 67 of those tanks are believed to have already leaked radioactive materials into the environment.

DOE has the herculean responsibility to prevent further contamination from escaping those aging tanks. With every passing month, the tanks continue to age, and the risk to the environment and the community increases. As DOE's contractor, we have the responsibility to design, build and test WTP, the plant that will rid the world of this clear and present threat to the safety of the public and environment. This critical and worthy mission is what drives each of us to perform our best every day.

We acknowledge that this project will always have its detractors. No public works project of this scale, complexity or expense can escape criticism. While the debates around this project will most likely continue for some time, what is most important is that we remain focused on achieving the DOE’s mission and building a plant that will confidently and safely eliminate the risk to the public and to the environment that exists in the Hanford waste tanks. That is our mission.

Thank you for your commitment to this project and for your continued focus on safety and quality as we work together to achieve our mission.