Records Falsified at Hanford Nuclear Waste Dump

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) - Some compaction records for the low-level radioactive waste dump at the Hanford nuclear reservation have been found to be bogus, officials said, raising questions about the risk of future pollution.

Patrick L. Pettiette, president of the Washington Closure Hanford LLC, said the contractor was told that falsified records were found Friday in a routine audit by S.M. Stoller Corp. of Broomfield, Colo., the subcontractor for operation of the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility.

"This has everyone's attention," Pettiette told the Tri-City Herald. "All the focus is on getting to the bottom of it."

The landfill is a repository for contaminated soil and mildly radioactive debris from the cleanup of Hanford, the nation's most polluted nuclear site, where material was made for atomic and hydrogen bombs starting in World War II.

Bulldozers run nearly continuously at the dump, packing the material to meet specified density standards that vary according to each type of material. The standards are designed to prevent settling that could compromise the integrity of an impermeable cap that contractors plan to place over the waste.

A leak in the cap could result in radioactivity being leached into groundwater and eventually the Columbia River.

At least once each shift, a technician is supposed to use instruments to test the compaction, but Stoller officials noticed that one worker listed results at times when there was no record showing the worker had been in the area.

When questioned, the employee admitted entering data without performing the tests on occasion over the last year, said Jeff James, director of waste operations for Washington Closure.

In recent months another employee has been doing most of the compaction tests, and the one who admitted making false entries no longer works for Stoller, said Jim Archibald, Stoller vice president.

Stoller has determined that no other data that could compromise the dump were falsified, but the extent of the bogus compaction test results remains under investigation, Archibald added.

The Environmental Protection Agency has not received enough information to draw conclusions on any long-term effects, said Nicholas I. Ceto, the agency's Hanford project manager.

"It does raise concerns about the operation," Ceto said.

The Department of Energy, which has jurisdiction over Hanford, also is keeping an eye on the situation, spokeswoman Karen Lutz said.

Until more is known, "we have to expect the worst," Pettiette said, but he added that compaction methods are sound so there should be little likelihood of a problem with the dump

"I fundamentally believe in the integrity of the landfill," he said.