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Originally published Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 4:01 PM

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Editorial: Hanford woes continue

Hanford nuclear reservation will get a new top Department of Energy manager as safety, health and construction issues with contractor Bechtel draw more attention.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Maybe an optimist sees the continuing troubles at the Hanford nuclear reservation as proof that someone is paying attention.

This past year has been spattered with periodic reports, audits and investigations by the federal Department of Energy about the serial failings of the prime contractor in a primary cleanup project.

Bechtel’s work on the $12.2 billion vitrification plant to stabilize 53 million gallons of radioactive waste for long-term storage is rife with safety problems, corrosion of pipes and vessels, and issues with underground pipe protections. The DOE’s investigation, dated Nov. 13, was revealed by the Los Angeles Times.

In August, a DOE engineering official documented 34 instances of Bechtel providing factually incorrect information, flawed designed solutions and equipment that did not meet safety standards.

Last spring, a DOE inspector general’s audit found containment vessels to be defective, and basic safety and design issues were raised.

Bechtel began work and cashing federal checks in 2001. The finish date has been steadily pushed out to 2019, and that date is written in pencil.

One consequence of this implosion is a new manager named to lead DOE efforts at Hanford. The Tri-City Herald reports that Kevin Smith will manage the Hanford Office of River Protection.

Credit for Washington making any progress over the years in prioritizing Hanford cleanup goes to departing Gov. Chris Gregoire. Her tenacity as head of the state Department of Ecology, state attorney general and governor was vital.

Incoming Gov. Jay Inslee must keep Hanford on the top of his to-do list. He’s no stranger to the reservation and its cleanup challenges, which were part of his responsibilities when he represented the 4th Congressional District in 1993-94.

He has to remember that cleanup at Hanford takes place in a bureaucratic environment where even shoddy work can earn lucrative bonuses.

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