$43 million wasted on radioactive sludge

A sign warns of radiation on the Hanford nuclear reservation Thursday, April 3, 2008 near Richland, Wash. Each year, the federal government spends roughly $2 billion to work toward cleaning up the nation's most contaminated nuclear site, but now, with a new president and a new Congress with their own ideas about how money should be spent, Hanford is in a period of transition.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
A sign warns of radiation on the Hanford nuclear reservation Thursday, April 3, 2008 near Richland, Wash.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Updated 2/22/11, 5:30pm to include a statement from Fluor.

The Department of Energy spent $43 million in a failed effort to treat and re-package 28.5 cubic meters of radioactive sludge at the Hanford nuclear production site in Washington state according to a new report from the Energy Department's Inspector General.

The amount of sludge, 28.5 cubic meters, is about equal to the water that would fill a small backyard above-ground swimming pool.

The original contract with a subsidiary of the construction giant, Fluor, to treat and move the sludge was abandoned after three years in part because the system had "been designed without important safety features necessary to protect workers from radiation contamination" according to the new report.

In an email statement to CBS News, a Fluor spokesperson said that the sludge project was "extremely complex," and a "first-of-a-kind effort." The statement went on to say "the resulting actions from the lessons learned have led to significant improvements in projects across the [Department of Energy] Complex, as well as the Sludge Treatment Project.

Now, in order to get the job done, the department will have to spend an estimated $175 million to move the sludge to another facility according to the new contractor, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation who has been hired to finish the job.

The inspector general concluded the program "had not been effectively managed", had "significant cost overruns" and the problems "may have been avoided."

The report indicates the Department of Energy generally agreed with the Inspector General's recommendations which include a close examination of the new $175 million price tag on the sludge removal.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has consistently identified the Energy Department's Office of Environmental Management that ran the sludge contract as "high risk".

A GAO report earlier this month noted that the department's Hanford cleanup will cost taxpayers over the next twenty years "tens of billions to over a hundred billion dollars."

The Hanford nuclear site sits by the Columbia River in Eastern Washington state and was formerly used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.