Report: Some Hanford radiation exposure records could harm workers and taxpayers

Environmental cleanup is underway at the 580-square-mile Hanford nuclear reservation. The underground tank farms, storing waste from the past production of plutonium, are in the center of the site.

KENNEWICK — Recordkeeping at Hanford could be improved to track worker radiation exposure, including to ensure fair compensation for workers who develop cancer, according to an inspection report of the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General.

Issues in recordkeeping can be a problem for both individual workers and the federal government under a compensation program for ill workers, said the report released Monday.

If a group of workers’ radiation exposure cannot be determined because of lack of records, the compensation program conservatively assumes that working at Hanford caused any of a wide range of cancers and the federal government must offer compensation.

Recordkeeping issues also could prevent a worker from having complete records to make an individual case that cancer was caused by radiation exposure.

The Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act pays each worker $150,000 in compensation for cancer plus medical coverage. An additional payment of as much as $250,000 compensation may be made related to wage loss and impairment

The program has paid out $1.7 billion to Hanford workers, former workers and their survivors in compensation and reimbursement of medical costs.

Brian Vance, the Department of Energy Hanford manager, disputed that inconsistencies in recordkeeping posed a liability to DOE under the compensation program, but did not explain why in his response to the Office of Inspector General.

The review of the radiation exposure, or dosimetry program, at Hanford generally found that DOE Hanford contractor Mission Support Alliance was doing a good job of managing radiation exposure records for all Hanford workers.

But it raised concerns that about 111 tank farm workers hired in 2014 and 2015 were not given radiation history forms to fill out by their employer, Washington River Protection Solutions. Some may have had previous exposures at the Hanford nuclear reservation or other DOE sites.

Although the problem has since been resolved, some workers went without a historical exposure record in the Radiation Exposure Database for as much as 3.5 years, according to the IG report.

Radiation exposure records “provide key and sensitive information to management and workers, who make decisions based on this information, the IG report said.

Although Mission Support Alliance has forms that other Hanford contractors can use to complete records in the site’s Radiation Exposure Database, contractors may instead use their own forms.

Those forms do not require all the information that needs to be input into the database, which increases the risks that the database will not be complete and accurate, according to the IG report.

DOE responded that it would consider working with Hanford contractors on standardized radiation exposure forms where appropriate.

Mission Support Alliance provides sitewide services at Hanford, while contractors Washington River Protection Solutions and CH2M Hill Central Plateau Remediation Co. hires workers for cleanup of environmental contamination at Hanford, including radioactive waste and contamination.

The Hanford nuclear reservation is contaminated from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War.

Review of dosimetry reporting policies

DOE also agreed to review contracts and procedure manuals for consistency in radiation exposure reporting requirements, after the IG report said there were inconsistencies.

The report concluded that some of the issues with radiation-exposure records might be because of unclear oversight responsibilities at Hanford.

Mission Support Alliance reports to the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office, while one of the cleanup contractors, the tank farm contractor, reports to the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection.

Vance, who oversees both DOE offices, said that was not a problem, but that the two offices will reinforce expectations that existing processes are used to resolve any conflict between contractors on dosimetry service issues.

Hanford workers or the survivors of ill workers can learn more about compensation programs and how to apply for them at the Hanford Workforce Engagement Center at 309 Bradley Blvd., Suite 120, in Richland. The center can be reached at (509) 376-4932.

TNS

Recommended for you