U.S. Water News Online
RICHLAND, Wash. -- The cost to build a waste treatment
plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation in south-central Washington
could top $10 billion, according to a new report.
In addition, the plant wouldn't be ready to begin treating toxic
and radioactive waste until 2017, six years after the legal deadline.
The cost and schedule estimate were contained in a 44,000-page
report prepared by Bechtel National, the contractor hired to build
the plant. The U.S. Department of Energy, which manages cleanup at
the highly contaminated site, presented the report to Washington
congressional and state leaders.
The so-called vitrification plant has long been considered the
cornerstone of Hanford cleanup. The plant is being designed to
convert millions of gallons of radioactive waste into a stable glass
form for permanent disposal in a nuclear waste repository.
The waste is being stored in underground tanks, some of which have
leaked into the aquifer, threatening the Columbia River less than 10
miles away and making cleanup a priority.
But the plant is billions of dollars over budget and years behind
schedule. Bechtel spent months completing the latest cost estimate
and schedule after it became apparent last year that the official
estimate of $5.8 billion was too low.
The new estimate puts the cost at almost $8.8 billion. However,
the estimate does not include an undetermined fee for Bechtel or an
allowance for uncertainties in the project that likely would be the
responsibility of the Energy Department.
Bechtel estimated those risks at nearly $1.8 billion, which would
bring the cost without the contractor fee to $10.5 billion.
The Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of reviewing the
estimate. The corps review will not be ready before summer, and the
Energy Department cannot confirm any other estimates until that
review is completed, department spokesman Mike Waldron said.
In addition, Bechtel already is working to revise the estimate due
to recent changes. They include a reduction in the budget for the
plant in 2006, from $626 million when Bechtel began the review last
year to $526 million.
A 2004 report showed that the Energy Department had underestimated
the impact a severe earthquake might have on the plant. That report
-- coupled with the rising costs for labor and materials and
technological problems for the one-of-a-kind plant -- prompted the
federal government to halt construction on major portions of the
plant last fall.
The latest estimate adds $700 million to $900 million to the
overall cost to meet new earthquake design standards.
Under the Tri-Party Agreement, the cleanup pact signed by the
state, Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency, the
plant is to be operating by 2011. Under the latest estimate, the
plant would be operating in March 2017.
Jay Manning, director of the state Department of Ecology, said
federal officials focused on the latest cost estimate -- rather than
the schedule -- when briefing the state on the situation.
"The numbers we're seeing are alarming and the impact to the
schedule is my primary concern at the moment," Manning said.
In its 2007 budget request, the Bush administration restored
funding for the plant to 2005 levels at $690 million.
The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the
top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Today, it is
the nation's most contaminated nuclear site, with cleanup costs
expected to total $50 billion to $60 billion.
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