Tom Carpenter of the watchdog group called Government Accountability Project got hold of internal Energy Department and Bechtel documents which reveal a series of problems with a special tank for processing or scrubbing the nuclear waste. The problems began when Bechtel hired an outside vendor to build it.
"They gave the wrong design specs to the manufacturer," says Carpenter. … "They gave them a less strict nuclear design."
According to the documents, when the tank arrived at Hanford it had "cracked stay welds." They were fixed. But then "different types of weld defects" were discovered. And yet Bechtel went ahead and installed the scrubber tank anyway.
"They still said, 'We can fix those when the tank's installed.' So they went ahead and installed it with defects, all right?" Carpenter says. "Knowing it, okay. So at this point they, Bechtel, demanded and then received a $15 million bonus for meeting a milestone."
Bechtel wouldn't give 60 Minutes an on-camera interview, but did say that the $15 million wasn't a "bonus," it was a fee. In any event, after they got the money, a "new deficiency was discovered" by "independent inspectors for Washington state."
This new deficiency, says Carpenter, was discovered after the tank was installed.
Carpenter says, "The red flag goes up and a full inspection is then ordered on the tank. Well, the full inspection should've been done at the factory where they built the tank."
Asked whether this inspection was part of the contract, Carpenter says, "Sure."
The full inspection finally led Bechtel to realize the tank was not up to specification. But Carpenter says that's not all.
"The design flaws that led to this tank being deficient applied to 66 other vessels," Carpenter explains. "Seven of which had already been built…. And they had to go and redesign the ones that had not been built, and fix the ones that had been built. It really raises a big question about, well, what have they not caught out there? What other equipment or tools, or machine, is installed maybe under feet of concrete that these programs failed to catch? Because their programs failed. The contractor failed. The Department of Energy failed. It took an independent inspector to find new deficiencies. Where is the adult supervision here? We're talking a nuclear facility handling some of the worst waste in the world, and they're fast tracking it? Excuse me."