BY TIM BONFIELD
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Losing the contract for one of the most important parts of the Fernald cleanup likely will cost Fluor Daniel Fernald millions of dollars in lost performance fees.
But it remains undecided whether a critical report issued this week by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) will result in the company's losing the entire Fernald contract when it comes up for renewal in November, said Gary Stegner, Department of Energy (DOE) spokesman at Fernald.
On Thursday, Energy Undersecretary Thomas Grumbly announced that the DOE would hire a ''world-class, experienced contractor'' to take over the job of cleaning up the K-65 silos at Fernald, which contain the most radioactive waste at the former uranium processing plant. The silos are part of Operable Unit 4, one of six distinct cleanup areas at Fernald.
Mr. Grumbly also said he would form a task force to study Fluor Daniel's overall performance on the $2 billion cleanup contract awarded in 1992. The overall contract comes up for renewal in November. The task force plans its recommendations by the end of April.
Mr. Grumbly's announcement came two days after a GAO report criticized Fluor Daniel's work on the vitrification project and confirmed a variety of other management and oversight problems at Fernald. The problems addressed in the GAO report were first exposed in an Enquirer series that began in February 1996.
''What we have to do is evaluate the contract,'' Mr. Stegner said. ''Has there been regulatory compliance? Is the cleanup on schedule? There has been some terrible slippage in the OU4 project, but they are doing well in other areas. If it wasn't for the OU4 project, they'd be getting accolades.''
Fluor Daniel issued a statement Friday evening supporting the DOE decision on the OU4 project. John Bradburne, Fluor Daniel Fernald site manager said: ''The company fully supports the Department of Energy's statement that it will seek world-class expertise for Fernald's silos ... Fluor Daniel Fernald will cooperate in every way possible to assure the project's ultimate success.''
Mr. Bradburne also said Fluor Daniel is ''on schedule and within budget'' on five of the six major cleanup activities at Fernald.
Mr. Bradburne's statement did not address DOE's planned review of the overall contract, but Fluor Daniel spokeswoman Tricia Thompson said a progress report card is ''standard procedure'' when a contract nears expiration.
The DOE hopes to hire a new company to handle the vitrification project within four months. The department plans to begin recruiting companies ''very, very soon,'' Mr. Stegner said.
In theory, vitrification is the best way to dispose of
radium-laced radioactive sludge stored in deteriorating K-65 silos at Fernald. Vitrification would encase the sludge in glasslike pellets for shipment to a permanent disposal site.
But the pilot plant, intended simply to test the technology, not actually process the waste, is more than $56 million over budget and 19 months behind schedule.
Fluor Daniel already has lost nearly $4 million in fees for missing deadlines related to the pilot plant. Now it stands to lose performance fees for the rest of the OU4 project, including building a full-scale plant, recently projected to cost more than $240 million.
Lisa Crawford, president of Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health (FRESH), said she supports hiring a new contractor for the vitrification plant.
''We've been talking about this for four or five months,'' Mrs. Crawford said. ''I think there was a general realization that there were problems that needed to be fixed. I think the GAO report was the final trigger to go ahead and move forward (with new contractor).''
DANGER & DECEIT: ENQUIRER INVESTIGATION
FERNALD CONTRACTOR LOSES BIG JOB March 21, 1997
GAO REPORT: CLEANUP BOTCHED, MILLIONS WASTED March 19, 1997
SUMMARY OF REPORT