By TODD HARTMAN
Allegations that enormous stores of new equipment were thrown away in the haste to close the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant and earn the contractor early cleanup bonuses have been lodged by several workers.
The complaints, now under review by the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General, involve assertions by former workers at the now-demolished plant that supervisors with cleanup contractor Kaiser-Hill found it easier to throw away the materials, many of which were still in boxes or wrapped in plastic, than to find new homes for them.
The latest complaints were made by ex-workers who contacted the Rocky Mountain News after the newspaper published initial claims in April.
"It got to where you just had to turn a blind eye because if you didn’t, it would make you sick," said Andrea Sierra, who worked for the company that was hired by Kaiser-Hill to auction off excess equipment during the closure. "Nothing stuns me anymore." Workers believe the throwaway mentality was wrapped up in Kaiser-Hill’s push to get the cleanup finished ahead of a deadline and under budget _ an outcome that netted what proved to be $170 million worth of bonuses from the Department of Energy.
Kaiser-Hill, however, has disputed claims that there was widespread waste of usable materials and argued that completing the job quickly and cheaply saved U.S. taxpayers big dollars, noting the project came in $400 million under projected costs.
"As I’ve stated before, we’re very confident we followed all DOE guidelines on proper disposition of property at Rocky Flats," said John Corsi, a spokesman for CH2M Hill, one half of the former joint venture with Kaiser Group Holdings.
After the News’ initial report on the workers claims, the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General said it would reopen a review into an earlier worker’s complaint about "wasteful practices" during the closure of the former nuclear weapons plant 16 miles west of Denver.
Since then, two inspectors with the OIG flew to Denver to meet with a group of workers, including Steven Weber, the original complainant who began writing to the OIG about his concerns in 2004.
Inspectors have also met with officials associated with Kaiser-Hill.
"We were contacted (by OIG) (three) weeks ago. We spent a brief meeting with them," Corsi said. "They asked a few straightforward questions for some documentation, and we’re in the process of providing that documentation."
Corsi said the documents relate to the company’s procedures for disposing of property at Rocky Flats.
Marilyn Richardson, a spokeswoman for the OIG, said the agency’s review is "ongoing" and declined to provide further detail. She encouraged former workers to contact OIG by phone or e-mail if they have additional concerns.
Workers interviewed by the News have reeled off a long list of usable materials _ often costly and never used _ that were pitched into cargo containers for burial at waste sites in Nevada and Utah.
"It got worse and worse and worse as the years went on and got closer and closer to closure," said David Flora, who worked for Kaiser-Hill for 15 years, both as an employee with the steelworkers union and, later, as a foreman for a subcontractor.
Flora and others say sometimes they were told it was too costly and time-consuming to inspect items for any possible radioactive contamination. But in many cases, workers say, the items in question were nowhere near contaminated areas, in so-called "cold" areas of the facility.
(Contact Todd Hartman of the Rocky Mountain News at www.rockymountainnews.com.)