The Department of Energy gave the consortium building the mixed-oxide fuel processing facility at Savannah River Site an overall grade of 49 percent in its most recent annual review. That grade earned it a $4.3 million fee, just less than half of the $8.9 million that could have been awarded for flawless work.
The consortium, CB&I Areva MOX Services, received verbal ratings of “satisfactory” in six categories, “very good” in one and “excellent” in two. The numerical grades ranged from 23 to 94 percent. A grade of 1-50 percent is considered satisfactory.
Company spokesmen referred questions to Westinghouse Electric Co., but its director of corporate communications, Gentry Brann, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Energy Department did not immediately make available the consortium’s self-assessment.
One anti-nuclear organization offered a scathing assessment of its own.
“While (the National Nuclear Security Administration) rates the performance of MOX Services as only satisfactory, NNSA itself earns an even lower rating for allowing this unacceptable and chronic situation to drag on,” said Tom Clement, the director of Savannah River Site Watch. “At a time when construction problems should have been worked out, it’s clear that neither CB&I Areva MOX Services nor the NNSA have the project under control.”
A pro-nuclear group raised the possibility that the rating was negatively slanted to reflect the Obama administration’s desire to halt the project, which is designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel.
“As a contractor, I never liked having a lot of money in the award fee because you can see from the write-up it’s very subjective,” said Mike Johnson, the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness. “If it’s written to support the administration’s position, it could be.”
Government contracts often include provisions for earning an “award fee” or bonus as an incentive. Evaluations are done with input from self-assessments by the contractors at the completion of each federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
“The award fee for the MOX project is designed to focus performance in areas that are critical to well-managed, safe, high-quality construction,” said Thom Metzger, the NNSA’s director of public affairs. “MOX Services did not meet NNSA’s expectations in several areas this year, and that performance is reflected in the final award fee determination. Through this process, and communications between the federal team at the Savannah River Site and MOX Services leadership, NNSA has identified areas for MOX Services to focus on improving in (fiscal year) 2016.”
Among the areas cited for improving were schedule performance, cost efficiency and project change control.
Those areas getting the highest scores were quality assurance, safety and security.