Workers continue to redo thousands of deficient welds at the Madison County plant that will destroy chemical weapons at Blue Grass Army Depot.
Neil Frenzl, resident engineering manager for prime contractor Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, told local officials in a public meeting Wednesday that 1,044 welds had been redone as of March 4. He said 2,900 remain to be done. .
“I’ve never dealt with this many bad or suspect welds in 25 years,” Frenzl said.
Pipefitters at the plant site found the deficient welds in piping that will feed liquids to and from vessels where chemical compounds will be treated in a process called supercritical water oxidation. That process involves high temperatures and pressures that break down the compounds into carbon dioxide, water and salts.
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Stress on the welds could have caused them to fail and release liquids that at times in the process are heated to a little less than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The welds “might have developed stress cracks over time” after the plant becomes operative in 2020, said Ron Hink, project manager for Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass.
The welds were done by a San Diego company called Pacific Rim, Hink said. Pacific Rim was subcontracted by General Atomics, which was subcontracted by Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass.
General Atomics previously referred questions about welds to Bechtel Parsons, and there was no immediate comment Wednesday from Pacific Rim.
Frenzl said he did not know the dollar value of Pacific Rim’s contract. Hink said he cannot state the cost of the rework because that depends on its duration, which is also unknown at this point. Hink and Frenzl said they don’t know whether the rework will affect the timeline for weapons destruction, which is projected to begin in 2020 and continue to 2023.
Asked who will pay for the rework, Frenzl said “We as the taxpayers, initially.”
Asked if the cost of the rework would revert to Pacific Rim, Hink said: “That’s in the legal house at this point. It’s hard for us to comment on it, but we are pursuing that.”
“To hear this kind of thing and then that there would be any kind of question at all of who’s going to pay for it, from a lay taxpayer’s perspective, I think that might erode some confidence in this project,” said the Rev. Robert Blythe, a Richmond city commissioner and a member of the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board.
On the other hand, Doug Hindman, co-chairman of the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens Advisory Commission, said he was glad the questionable welds were found now rather than when the plant starts operating.