Project Management Institute

Transportation engineering support for complex remediation projects


Since the early 1940s, hazardous materials have been routinely transported on the 560 mi2 Hanford Site. Until recently, these materials were primarily radioactive materials transported to support nuclear materials production and reactor operations. Waste materials were transported to site burial grounds. Many of the containers (referred to as packagings) used to transport and/or dispose of the hazardous material were developed over the years as needed to continue operations.

The situation changed in the late 1980s, when nuclear material production and reactor operations were phased out. The emphasis shifted to site restoration and remediation. Although transportation of hazardous materials on-site plays a role in both the old and new missions, the role has clearly changed.

Packaging is no longer a peripheral aspect of operations. Remediation involves moving large volumes of contaminated material to be stored, treated, or disposed of. Frequently, the packaging is also used as a long-term storage container. Consequently, the transportation activity is viewed as a significant part of the remediation operation, and is gaining a new visibility.

Stakeholder involvement, storage options, increased regulatory drivers, and the potential of transporting hazardous material offsite for characterization, processing, or disposal are now influencing packaging development, safety analysis, and use. Because the quantity of on-site transportation activities is increasing rapidly, the cost of packaging development and of the packagings themselves are becoming major factors.

How does a group of packaging engineers evolve from being reactive to short-term production issues, to being reactive to short-term remediation issues, and then to being proactive to medium- and long-term remediation projects? One answer to this question: Change to a modern project management environment.

Line Project Structure

Recently, the Westinghouse Hanford Company reorganized into a dedicated project structure. The purpose of the reorganization is to concentrate company resources on specific major remediation areas as projects. The primary divisions include the Tank Waste Remediation System Project, which handles the millions of gallons of stored hazardous wastes; the Facility Transitions Projects, which involves preparing process facilities for decontamination and decommissioning; the Spent Nuclear Fuels Project, which involves the spent nuclear fuel stored on the Hanford Site; and the Waste, Analytical and Environmental Services Division, which provides cross-site support and waste disposal.

The company structure is intended to dedicate resources to a common objective to more effectively meet project-specific goals. However, there are common needs between the projects, one of which is transportation. Regardless of the project, numerous remediation transportation activities are similar or even identical. Somehow, the commonalities need to be identified and integrated to prevent duplication and unnecessary cost, without allowing the J. Greg Field process of integration to arbitrarily interfere with project schedules.

Transportation and Packaging, a department in the Waste, Analytical and Environmental Services Division, is chartered with the responsibility of providing transportation engineering support to the Hanford Site. This organization, which is completely funded by the projects, has the ability to provide crosscutting efforts, while the major projects retain overall control.

Figure 1. TRIGA Radioactive Fuel Element Packaging System Developed to Transport and Store Fuel Capsules

TRIGA Radioactive Fuel Element Packaging System Developed to Transport and Store Fuel Capsules

Paradigm Shifts

The ability to provide cross-organizational integration sounds good, but without focus it flounders. The on-site packaging engineering organization, which is made up of Packaging Safety Engineering and Packaging Design Engineering, had developed in a production-oriented, and at times, reactive climate. Short-term “fire drills” had priority and the organization had become good at responding to them. The engineers had developed little respect for long-term goals, because those goals rarely survived as planned. Project management seemed to be something that the Construction Projects people did.

As the restoration and remediation activities began at the Hanford Site, the packaging engineering management tried to counsel change. We provided team building and we attempted to convince the engineers that their new tasks needed project managing. This attempt to be proactive did not fare well. There was so much inertia to overcome.

Before 1991, we had not completed a significant on-site packaging safety analysis in less than three years. In fact, one analysis had dragged on for seven years. The general attitude about this delay was that it was no big deal—no one seemed concerned. This was the attitude before 1991. Then, in 1991, the Tank Waste Remediation System Project funded us to provide a major packaging safety analysis for a system to be used for transporting waste tank samples on-site. We were given less than nine months to plan and complete the job.

It took us several months to realize that we should panic. The deadline was fixed as a company milestone for our U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) customer, and it was not going to go away. A planner/scheduler from the Tank Waste Remediation System Project showed up to establish a detailed schedule that would require monthly updates. Project management—that dreaded thing!—and a dedicated work team ultimately saved us. We met the milestone, and for at least a few of us, change began.

Department Organization

For good reason, Transportation and Packaging had a vertical focus. Cross-group matrixing was not encouraged. In fact, the two site engineering groups, Packaging Design Engineering and Packaging Safety Engineering, tended to separate their work activities as though they were totally unrelated. This worked because a production-driven workscope tended to be discrete, narrow, and efficiently handled under a single line manager. Workscope that required input from another group was done turnkey. The assigned individual went off alone, did the work, and provided it, complete, to the responsible engineer.

The restoration and remediation workscope is more broad and often requires a single product developed by both groups. In addition, a number of other support engineering groups may contribute to the effort. The Project customers expect to deal with a single point of contact from TP on the packaging activity, instead of the group that happens to be working at that point.

The Transportation and Packaging organizational structure is being evaluated to better suit our mission and better support packaging projects. Project management is still viewed by some as a bureaucratic nightmare to be avoided. Certainly an oppressive application of it would be a mistake, because most of our projects are small and not complex. However, project management is selling itself because we are succeeding best on those jobs that are being managed as projects.

Change Agents

Experience with the previous longer-term jobs did show us several recurring problems. Scope was usually poorly defined and the final product was rarely welcomed with consensus. The final product was unlike that originally intended, because its concept changed every time the lead engineer changed. Fire drills caused constant interruptions, and longer-term packaging development was rarely accomplished in a timely manner.

One of the first changes we implemented was to establish a small team of engineers as firefighters. The team would respond to the constant interruptions for short-turnaround tasks. The remainder of the staff was dedicated to lead or provide engineering support to the packaging projects. Although it took months for the team to become independent, the team has helped to keep the projects and resources prioritized.

Another change involved introducing a step into our packaging engineering system: the Packaging Design Criteria. The Criteria was originally intended to solidify project scope in terms of actual design criteria, safety analysis requirements, facility interfaces, and the definition of the hazardous materials to be transported. Also, the Criteria would include any design features that interfaced with the transportation system. This interface description involves those design aspects needed for a packaging that will also provide long-term storage of waste material.

The Packaging Design Criteria has evolved to become the first step in a packaging project. It now includes a determination of quality assurance levels, a detailed characterization of the hazardous material contents, and a conversion of safety analysis criteria, based on risk, into performance criteria that make sense to a design engineer. The Packaging Design Criteria also forms the basis of the creation of the engineering team. The team also includes the project customer. All affected players are required to sign approval of the criteria before starting the design and safety analysis.

The Packaging Design Criteria is not required for our projects. However, not one customer has waived its use in the past three years.

Several continuous improvement initiatives were started in FY 1994 to further phase in project management. Performance indicators were used to track the percentage of projects with work plans, schedules, and updates. A performance indicator also tracked the fire drill team's customer contact dispositions. Another strategy involved forming a multi-project packaging schedule that integrated projects between the engineering groups.

Project Management Examples

TRIGA Packaging System.  At the beginning of FY 1994, the Facility Transitions Project offered us the task of developing, designing, analyzing, and obtaining approval to use a combination waste storage and on-site transportation packaging for irradiated fuel from a site Test Reactor and Isotope Production General Atomics (TRIGA) reactor, which is being decommissioned. We were given clear scope, funding, and a ten-month window to complete the schedule. We were also fortunate to have a customer that mandated a disciplined approach, and supported the notion that the packaging might be used for other site projects.

For the first time, we assigned a project manager (whom we refer to as a project or task leader) to form a team to perform this project. The project manager was a young engineer who had recently been successful on a relatively small but tricky assignment. She had shown a willingness to learn and team, and had shown good project management attributes.

She formed the team, which included members from eight different line organizations, and created a work plan and a project schedule. She held frequent meetings. The team successfully completed the Packaging Design Criteria on time. However, within three months conflict arose. One of the team members was falling behind and seemed unwilling to support the schedule. The project manager escalated her concerns to the cognizant line management. She quickly discovered that line management, because of leftover vertical management, was less supportive of this project than other workscopes assigned to the team member. Although the immediate problem was finally resolved, the ultimate success of the project was due, in part, to the winning over of that one team member. While the team member initially seemed to feel that his role was working for the project manager (as assigned by his line manager), he ultimately demonstrated pride as a member of a successful team.


There were other problems, including the project manager performing several tasks that should have been performed by other team members. This lack of delegation appeared expedient to the project manager, but actually hurt the team's synergism. Nevertheless, because of aggressive project management during the final project phase, the project was completed on time and less than 5 percent over budget.

Failed Waste Tank Long Length Pump Packaging used to retrieve, transport onsite and store failed, contaminated pumps

Failed Waste Tank Long Length Pump Packaging used to retrieve, transport onsite and store failed, contaminated pumps.

Post-Accident Sample-1 (PAS-1) Packaging. Several years ago, we proposed to the Tank Waste Remediation System Project the upgrade of an existing off-site certified packaging, the PAS-1, to authorize the shipment of waste tank samples to off-site laboratories for characterization. This type of packaging is approved for use by an independent certifying authority, either the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or DOE, based on a detailed Safety Analysis Report for Packaging. It was estimated to take approximately two years to obtain approval for shipping waste tank samples in the PAS-1.

Early in FY 1994, the Tank Waste Remediation System Project funded us to manage the task of obtaining authorization to ship waste tank samples in the PAS-1. Based on the customer needs, we prepared a work plan and proposed an accelerated 16-month schedule. The scope included bringing in a subcontractor, who had originally developed the PAS-1, to provide design and safety analysis support. The engineering involved assessing the hazards posed by the waste tank material during transport, and creating an internal container system for the samples that would interface with shielded laboratory facilities. Establishing the characteristics of the tank waste sufficiently enough to justify the approval for shipment was considered a high project risk because the waste tank material is chemically, physically, and radioactively complex.

Soon after the project began, an oversight board set a milestone date that compressed the schedule to 12 months. Because the project was already accelerated, several related tasks had to be performed in parallel. Although this increased project risk, it improved the schedule. Because this activity had been treated like a project from the beginning, it was possible to make work plan changes that showed increased risk, but indicated a willingness to support the customer. Also, after some confusion at the start, the project manager recognized his role and kept the project on track. The support subcontractor was quite cooperative, and was able to dedicate additional resources during critical times.

The initial engineering activities including the Packaging Design Criteria, three procurement specifications, design of an internal packaging rack, solid steel and lead-lined sample carriers, and the Safety Analysis for Report for Packaging were completed on time. Two PAS-1 packagings, internal racks, and sample carriers were fabricated and accepted ahead of schedule. The approval to use these packagings systems currently rests with DOE and is expected early in 1995.

Hydrogen Mitigation Mixer Pump Packaging. A 60-ft-long hydrogen mitigation mixer pump will be removed from a 1-million-gallon waste tank in the near future. The pump will be installed into an on-site transportation/storage system and moved to a storage facility for future disposition. Because it is not known when the pump will require replacement, the project to develop the retrieval and transportation/storage system was placed on an accelerated schedule. Replacement of a failed pump is essential to tank safety.

We were tasked to develop the PDC for the packaging system, and later the packaging safety analysis to obtain authorization to use the system. Because the packaging design is unique, and the schedule was compressed, the preliminary design was done quickly, and the final design was produced as the fabrication was performed, as-built. This introduced project risk, because any design feature that could not be defended in the safety analysis would have led to refabrication. However, the schedule supporting waste tank safety left little choice.

We attempted to work with the designers and fabricators as the system progressed to ensure they were on the right track. We estimated that we needed a minimum of six weeks to complete the required structural analyses, complete the safety analysis, and obtain approval to use the system after final design drawings were released. Unfortunately, the fabrication of the pump packaging was delayed when parts of the hardware arrived out-of-round from an off-site manufacturer. The local fabrication shop was able to reshape the parts, but weeks were lost in the schedule to produce the final design drawings.

We were asked by the customer to obtain approval to use the system within two days of issuing the final drawings; therefore, the milestone for system availability was not allowed to slip. This request was made because of commitments the Tank Waste Remediation System Project had made to their customer based on waste tank safety. The work team, which included a liaison from the design team, was pulled together. They brainstormed an action items list and developed a parallel schedule. They believed they could meet the schedule if there were no significant unforeseen design changes during the final weeks of fabrication.

Our role in supporting the Tank Waste Remediation System Project had become critical path in meeting a major commitment to DOE. Also, the ability to change out a failed pump was viewed as critical to public safety, because the pump prevents the accumulation of hydrogen gas in the waste tank. We felt we had to meet the new schedule.

Long hours were spent by several team members to meet the schedule. The action items list was updated daily and approval to use the system was obtained on schedule.

Lessons Learned

A challenge we have in the packaging engineering groups is the competition for resources—that is, the people. Although our projects tend to be small, they compete for the same resource pool. As a result, we are introducing multi-project planning to effectively manage resources and prioritize projects.

The packaging engineering groups lead approximately 40 minor tasks and 20 major packaging activities each year. We have increased the expectations of our engineers to succeed at projects; however, many of them are buying into project management slowly.

To help encourage developing project management as the way to do business, we need to establish reasonable project management expectations. This is necessary so that the projects are handled consistently, with less reliance on the specific project manager. This will also ensure the project manager does not have to create an administrative structure for each project.

Even though the people are buying into it slowly, it is very satisfying to see how much more project-oriented we have become in just a few years. However, we still have people who do not team, although they may be effective on specific, singular tasks. Because of this lack of acceptance, several projects have not gone as well as the examples.

The examples we have used are “wins” because project management was applied to make them successful. That success was measured by the teaming that took place, the quality product delivered to the project customer, and the value of the product to the entire Hanford Site. The PAS-1 packaging has already been used to support the shipment of radioactive material in support of a Waste, Analytical and Environmental Services Project, although it was obtained for the Tank Waste Remediation System Project. The TRIGA packaging is being evaluated for possible use at other reactor sites.

Change and resistance to changing to a project-oriented way of doing business can create conflict. How do we address this conflict? Change can be perceived as having a positive or negative effect on an organization and the people in it. Project management can be something an individual does naturally, or it is something that has to be learned. When these two factors— change and natural or learned project management ability—are considered, they are either embraced or resisted. With this in mind, it is important to demonstrate project success through project management. By showing, rather than telling, project management will sell itself. As a result, the organization and the people in it will reap the benefits from changing to project management. Nothing begets success like success.

J. Greg Field, PMP, is a packaging engineering manager in the Waste, Analytical and Environmental Services Division of Westinghouse Hanford Company.


This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network • March 1995



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