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Wednesday, October 4, 2023
Oct. 4, 2023

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Is no bidder eligible for $45B Hanford nuclear waste contract? ‘Significant’ issues raised


KENNEWICK — Neither bidder for a new $45 billion contract awarded at the Hanford nuclear reservation may have been registered as required to bid on the contract, says the Department of Justice.

It has asked a federal judge in a lawsuit filed by the losing bidder to send the matter back to the Department of Energy to address that issue and possibly others.

The 10-year contract, with some work possibly extending up to 15 years, covers operations of the tank farms holding 56 million gallons of radioactive waste from past production of nearly two-thirds of the plutonium produced for the nation’s nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War in Eastern Washington.

It also would be the first operating contractor for the Hanford vitrification plant, under construction for 21 years at the site near Richland. It is preparing to start turning some of the least radioactive tank waste into a stable glass form for permanent disposal.

The contract was awarded to Hanford Tank Waste Operations and Closure, called H2C for short, a joint venture of BWXT Technical Services Group, Amentum Environment & Energy and Fluor Federal Services.

But the losing bidder, Hanford Tank Disposition Alliance, or HTDA, filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims challenging the Department of Energy’s choice.

Among the issues, and the first to be considered by the court, is HTDA’s claim that H2C was not registered with the federal contracting System for Award Management, which is a requirement for bidding on most federal contracts.

According to the Department of Justice, H2C was registered in the system when it bid on it in 2022, but its registration had lapsed by the time it filed an appended offer at the start of 2023.

Because H2C was not registered at all times, that “should result in setting aside of the award as ‘not in accordance with the law’,” according to the Department of Justice.

But H2C responded in court documents saying that HTDA’s required registration with the System for Award Management was invalid.

Between the time that DOE received final proposals for the contract and its award of the contract, HTDA amended its federal contract registration to say its highest level owner was not Canadian owned SNC Lavalin Group but U.S. company Atkins Nuclear Secured.

The winning bidder said that the alteration unlawfully concealed foreign ownership of the largest venture partner of HTDA. Other partners are Jacobs Technology and Westinghouse Government Services.

Atkins was purchased by SNC Lavalin in 2017.

HTDA has argued that the change in ownership on its registration was a mere “administrative error.”

H2C says even in the losing bidder’s error was not intentional, it still invalidates the HTDA registration.

It says that the judge should conclude that the issues with both bidders’ proposals cancel each other out.

HTDA disagrees, and says H2C should be stripped of the contract award, which would leave no choice but for it to be awarded the contract.

‘Significant issues’ raised

The Department of Justice says neither bidder’s proposal is reasonable.

“The court should remand to the agency (DOE) to take action that it deems necessary to address the issues raised in this case and any other issue relevant to the subject of the challenged procurement,” the Department of Justice said in court documents.

Both bidders “at the very least raise significant issues that the agency should address,” it said.

If DOE is not permitted to consider options for bringing the proposals into compliance, it may face a scenario in which neither proposal can be accepted, it said.

The Department of Justice also asked that the federal court retain jurisdiction since it already is well versed on the case.

The other issues raised by HTDA included questioning the safety record of the companies that make up H2C and whether the proposed management team is as strong as DOE determined.