The relationship between the U.S. Energy Department and the contractor building an important facility to accelerate the cleanup of Savannah River Site’s Cold War nuclear waste has become “adversarial” and must be improved, according to a new federal study.
“In order to ensure that the organizations can be successful, a level of trust and respect must be re-established,” the Energy Department’s Office of Safety & Emergency Management Evaluations wrote in a study of the safety culture at the Salt Waste Processing Facility at SRS.
The project’s contractor, Parsons, received high marks and praise for its emphasis on safety, but has become mired in distrust in its relationship with the Department of Energy’s SWPF Project Office, the report said.
“There is an expressed distrust, lack of respect, and perception of favoritism by DOE SWPF PO,” auditors wrote. “The effects of this adversarial relationship are also evident in the perceptions expressed by some of the other SWPF contractors towards Parsons.”
The salt waste complex, which will process salt waste from the site’s 47 underground storage tanks, was scheduled to open in 2015, but could be delayed as much as three years – a timetable that could require the Energy Department to renegotiate cleanup commitments made to the state of South Carolina.
The new facility, with technology to accelerate cleanup operations, has encountered challenges that included a two-year delay in delivery of storage tanks, which arrived last June. The new projected operation date is 2018.
The evaluation of the project’s safety culture includes recommendations auditors say could improve the situation.
Options could include using independent parties to encourage better cooperation and using the need for safe operation of the facility to minimize the impact of the damaged relationship.
To accomplish those goals, the report noted, “changes in the management and processes related specifically to the SWPF Project may be required.”
Examples of adversarial situations cited in the report included:
• Parsons is not invited to the Integrated Project Team meetings, but other contractors are.
• Recent comments on Parsons’ monthly reports have been perceived as slanderous and abusive.
• DOE uses resources from other contractors, competitive with Parsons, to help in the oversight of Parsons’ performance on the SWPF project, including evaluating proprietary and confidential information.
• DOE has been critical of Parsons’ relationships with other contractors on the project and has verbally indicated preferences towards other contractors.