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DOE says Tetra Tech will stay in cleanup contract

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The Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Office Thursday responded to a nuclear and environmental safety group’s request to reconsider the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s choice of contractor to clean up waste generated by the laboratory between the Manhattan Project era and 1999.

A nuclear watchdog group released information earlier this week, raising concerns about allegations of fraud surrounding Tetra Tech prior to the LANL work.

A Department of Energy spokesman said Thursday the Department of Energy would continue to monitor and evaluate Tetra Tech’s work.

“The Department of Energy conducted a thorough review of the proposals submitted for the new Los Alamos Legacy Cleanup Contract. DOE closely monitors and evaluates its contractors’ performance to ensure that work is performed safely and efficiently, and will continue to do so with Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos LLC,” said a DOE spokesman, who asked not to be named.

The watchdog group, Nuclear Watch, pointed to several earlier reports made regarding the company’s work.

“Serious allegations of fraud by Tetra Tech were raised long before the LANL cleanup contract was awarded,” a written statement from Nuclear Watch said. “The US Navy found that the company had committed widespread radiological data falsification, doctored records and supporting documentation, and covered up fraud at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard cleanup project in San Francisco, CA.” 

Recent news reports state that land Tetra Tech remediated in the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard project will have to be retested this summer due to Tetra Tech’s negligence. One news report said the U.S. Environmental Protection agency had to halt transfers of land scheduled for redevelopment due to incomplete work.

Nuclear Watch Executive Director Jay Coghlan replied: “That’s B.S. I remind the American taxpayer that DOE cleanup programs have been on the high risk list formulated by the Government Accountability Office since 1990.” Coghlan said. “DOE is notorious for lack of contractor oversight. It’s getting a little bit better… It’s getting better because of two things, the security incident at Y-12 and the way Los Alamos closed down WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) for three years with a ruptured drum.”

Coghlan said subcontractor Tetra Tech should not have been on the main contractor (N3B of Los Alamos) team because of past allegations of abuse and fraud related to other Department of Energy Projects.

Nuclear Watch Research Director Scott Kovac called Tetra Tech’s inclusion in the cleanup contract “Same old monkeys, different trees.”

“It took years for the DOE Environmental Management Office in Los Alamos to put a cleanup contract in place. We are seriously disappointed that there are major problems before the contract even starts. This situation shines a light on the cozy DOE contractor system, where every cleanup site has different combinations of the same contractors. Call it different trees, but the same old monkeys, where the real priority is to profit off of taxpayers dollars before a shovel turns over any waste,” Kovac said. 

In December, the Department of Energy awarded N3B Los Alamos a $1.39 billion  contract to clean up “legacy waste,” which is waste that was generated by the laboratory and stored on the 38-square-mile property from the days of the Manhattan Project until 1999.

N3B Los Alamos

N3B is the first contractor the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Office has hired to do the legacy cleanup, which includes waste deposited and stored at the site since 1999. Before that, the cleanup operation was carried out by the Los Alamos National Laboratory under a bridge contract.

In 2014, the Department of Energy separated the waste cleanup operation from the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s current operations in response to a radiological accident that happened at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in 2014. The move was made to provide better focus to the packaging and handling of waste at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, since an investigation later revealed the radiological accident was due to a mistake made by workers packing the barrels for shipment.