KENNEWICK — Bechtel National has received its highest ever annual rating for its work on the Hanford site’s vitrification plant for 2022.
The Department of Energy said it earned 83% of the incentive pay possible for its work last year, based on a subjective evaluation.
It earned just over $6.5 million out of the nearly $7.9 million possible for work that DOE rated overall as “very good” — a step above “good” and a step below the top rating of “excellent.”
“I’m incredibly proud of this rating,” said Bechtel project director Valerie McCain in a message to employees Monday. “It reflects your commitment to our mission and getting it right, even when it is hard.”
DOE reimburses Bechtel for the cost of supplies and labor at the vitrification plant, with Bechtel earning pay, or “fee” as DOE calls it, based on its performance.
Bechtel also can earn incentive pay for completing specific work in addition to its pay based on DOE’s subjective rating.
Bechtel began building the vitrification plant in the center of the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington in 2002. Last year the contractor transitioned to commissioning the plant, following construction and startup testing phases.
The plant is being built to treat much of the 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste left in underground tanks since as early as World War II.
Hanford, near Richland, produced nearly nearly two-thirds of the nation’s plutonium through the Cold War for its nuclear weapons program.
Last year Bechtel National’s rating was “good” and it earned $5.8 million or 74% of the incentive pay available in DOE’s subjective evaluation of its work.
This year’s rating was almost a full 10% increase, McCain said.
“This rating is a testament to your steadfast drive to solve the technical challenges we encountered before, during and after the start of melter heatup,” she told workers.
Bechtel started heating up the plant’s first melter in October.
Under a plan to start turning the least radioactive tank waste into a stable glass form before vitrifying high level radioactive tank waste, Bechtel was working last year to start up the first of two melters at the vit plant’s Low Activity Waste Facility.
But an electrical malfunction resulted in the startup heaters for the melter being turned off, and Bechtel continues to work through issues before it again attempts the heatup of the first melter.
Bechtel’s ratings have steadily improved in recent years.
In 2020 it earned 70% of available pay, which was up from 64% the year before. In 2017 and 2018 it earned only 48% of available pay.
Bechtel 2022 achievements
DOE did not make public the full evaluation, but instead released a two-page scorecard on Monday.
DOE praised Bechtel for finding ways to purchase important items despite supply challenges.
The contractor used external and independent expertise at the corporate level and with vendors to solve technical challenges identified during plant commissioning, DOE said.
Bechtel improved project performance reporting while conducting a comprehensive cost and schedule estimate to complete the project, DOE said.
Bechtel also improved communication related to technical and other issues, and it strengthened relationships with other Hanford site contractors and the Washington state Departments of Health and Ecology, DOE said.
DOE also commended Bechtel on its new technology for training radiological control workers.
Areas for improvement
Bechtel needs a consistent status verification process of plant systems following maintenance or commissioning activities, DOE said. That’s part of an overall need to strengthen procedures, work instructions and adherence to procedures, it said.
Bechtel also needs to improve its spare parts and preventative maintenance program as it prepares for plant operations, DOE said.