Audit Report: DOE-OIG-21-01

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October 20, 2020

Respiratory Equipment Maintenance at the Portsmouth Site

The Department of Energy’s Portsmouth Site (Portsmouth) includes one of three large gaseous diffusion plants in the United States initially constructed to produce enriched uranium to support the Nation’s nuclear weapons program and, in later years, enriched uranium used by commercial nuclear reactors.  In 2001, enrichment operations were discontinued at Portsmouth.  In 2011, decontamination and decommissioning of Portsmouth’s gaseous diffusion plant commenced.  Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth LLC (FBP) is the Department’s contractor responsible for the decontamination and decommissioning of Portsmouth’s gaseous diffusion plant. 

We initiated this audit to determine whether Portsmouth was adequately maintaining respiratory protection equipment to protect workers from exposure to hazardous materials.  This report is one in a series of reports at select Office of Environmental Management sites.

During our audit we identified significant weaknesses in the decontamination of radiologically contaminated respirators that could increase the risk that workers would be exposed to radioactive contamination and potentially inhale radioactive particles.  Specifically, we identified that (1) FBP’s cleaning contractor, UniTech, was not in compliance with its contract requirement to ensure respiratory protection equipment did not contain radioactive contamination, and (2) FBP’s mitigating controls were inadequate to ensure respiratory equipment returned from UniTech was not radiologically contaminated.  In addition, FBP did not always ensure respiratory protection equipment was safeguarded from loss.

The issues with the UniTech contract occurred because FBP’s corrective actions were inadequate to address the root cause of contaminated respirators being shipped to FBP, recurring issues were not reported to the Department’s Occurrence Reporting and Processing System, FBP’s oversight of UniTech did not ensure all contractual requirements were being met, and the Department did not hold FBP accountable for the UniTech contract issues.  In addition, respiratory protection equipment was not always safeguarded from loss because FBP had not established an adequate inventory system that could track respirators from purchase to disposal.

Management generally concurred with our recommendations and its proposed corrective actions are consistent with our recommendations.