MOX contractor pens response to NNSA criticism

The contract company handling construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River Site was handed staunch criticism and negative reviews in documents made public last month, and a recently obtained letter detailed the company’s response.

 

A CB&I Areva MOX Services executive wrote a letter this month to Lance Nyman, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s lead contracting officer for SRS. The letter was signed March 8 by Rex Norton, the contractor’s vice president of Contracts and Supply Chain Management.

Several Congressional staff members confirmed that they had received copies of the letter.

“When we first reviewed NNSA’s evaluation narrative last year, we were shocked at the hostile and unbalanced tone of the document which … made no mention of the obstacles NNSA has thrown up to the efficient construction of the facility,” the letter stated.

The letter outlined a series of grievances with NNSA actions that the contractor said complicated the continued construction of the MOX facility and contributed to a “chilled work environment.”

Among the complaints, the company alleged the NNSA exercised a denial of overtime, added delays and additional cost, and made factually misleading statements in public.

The letter said overtime is used to ensure smooth construction and continuity of work at the construction site. It said the NNSA directed that all overtime be approved by the agency, dropping the total overtime rate to less than 1 percent. According to Norton in the letter, most large construction projects run between 12 and 20 percent for overtime.

The letter also alleges that NNSA policies requiring approval of purchases that only support immediate construction activities lengthen the project. The MOX facility is years behind deadline, having been originally scheduled for completion in 2014. MOX Services estimates that construction will now be complete in 2029, and NNSA estimates completion in 2048.

Norton’s letter said the agency commissioned studies, like those done to determine completion dates, that didn’t involve the contractor.

“NNSA contracted and conducted numerous studies of MOX with little to no involvement of the contractor to provide input or to perform factual accuracy reviews. Typically, contractors are allowed to conduct factual accuracy reviews,” the letter said.

The NNSA is also accused of making statements to the public and to congressional visitors that were factually inaccurate, according to the letter. It said those statements included information about the amount of work that had to be redone, the physical completion rates and contractor qualifications.

The contractor and a number of congressional officials have said the project is about 70 percent complete. The NNSA, however, disputes that figure, saying the facility is about 30 percent complete.

The letter said the NNSA prohibited MOX Services and MOX contractors from speaking about the project publicly.

“MOX Services personnel are prohibited from discussing MOX to anyone externally,” the letter stated. “NNSA has also unilaterally changed the contract to prohibit even casual interaction with community groups, including Chamber of Commerce breakfasts and other events.”

In the letter, MOX Services said the NNSA has offered constructive criticism in the past, but called the language in its 2016 Award Fee determination “denigrating.” The contractor said that it believes that, with the appropriate funding, there is about $3 billion needed to finish MOX construction, but a collaborative effort between both the contractor and the NNSA is a necessity to reach that mark.

The National Nuclear Security Administration did not reply to a request for comment.

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.

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