Hanford News

HC Challenges DOE Findings on Safety Culture

July 21, 2015

Hanford Challenge is releasing an analysis of an Energy Department Assessment of Hanford’s safety culture that DOE has said “shows improvement.”  The term “safety culture” encompasses the willingness and ability of employees to raise safety, health and other concerns to management without fear of reprisal.  Since 2011, Hanford has been under heavy criticism for maintaining a chilled work environment where a high number of employees aren’t willing to raise concerns.  This was sparked by the removal (and subsequent termination) of Dr. Walter Tamosaitis, the Manager for Research and Technology for the Waste Treatment Plant.  Dr. Tamosaitis had reported 50 nuclear safety and design issues to Hanford management, and he was swiftly removed. Since then, others like Donna Busche, the Manager for Environmental and Nuclear Safety, have also been terminated.

The DOE report released in the last several weeks purports to show a “dramatic turnaround” (according to the local paper), but HC’s analysis shows that things are just as bad as other surveys have documented.  Apart from changing its methodology and approach this time around when compared to past assessments, DOE also tried to put lipstick on a pig by casting the numbers in a positive spin.  For instance, instead of saying that 35% of employees were unwilling to openly challenge management decisions, DOE reported that 65% felt that they could.  How could it be good news that fully one-third of employees are afraid to buck management decisions?  In the end, DOE even admitted that the survey results for DOE’s own safety culture were “statistically insignificant” from 2014 survey’s results, which were terrible.  DOE is anxious to show progress, but it can’t get there by papering over a dismal problem.

Assessments alone will not improve the broken safety culture at Hanford. The first step is understanding that employees learn from examples – and the examples that have been broadcast to the workforce contain a strong lesson to stay silent and not report concerns or challenge management.  People whose careers have been destroyed need to rehabilitated and those responsible for their terminations held accountable. There needs to be increased accountability and transparency. If the DOE wants to see better results on the EA assessment, we all need to see a Hanford that is truly safe and secure for workers.  Click here for the HC report and the DOE assessment.

Wyden to Hold up Energy Department Nomination over Unaddressed Hanford Concerns

Original Post: June 16, 2015 Updated: June 17, 2015
Senator Wyden (D-OR) has issued a press release: “Sen. Ron Wyden, D- Ore., today said he would object to the Senate’s consideration of the Department of Energy’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environmental Management, in a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.” To read the full press release, please click here.

UPDATE: Senator Cantwell (D-WA) has also issued a press release: “Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, questioned two nominees to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Hanford cleanup and the Columbia River Treaty.’The Office of Environmental Management accounts for about one-fifth of the department’s nearly $30 billion annual budget. The program is especially important to the state of Washington, which is home to the Hanford site, which is the largest, most complex and most expensive of all of the department’s cleanup sites,’ Sen. Cantwell said.” To read the full press release, please click here.

Executive Director Tom Carpenter stated, “Hanford Challenge applauds and appreciates Senator Wyden’s steadfast support for Hanford whistleblowers and in holding DOE’s feet to the fire on meaningful progress in addressing the retaliatory safety culture at Hanford. One step that DOE should take to prove that it is willing to take on meaningful reforms is to order the immediate reinstatement of Dr. Tamosaitis, Donna Busche and Gary Brunson, all of whom were wrongfully terminated despite the fact that their concerns were validated by DOE. Further, it is time for the DOE to remove the Hanford contractor Bechtel National, Inc. from its role as a Design Authority over the Waste Treatment Plant. That’s pretty concrete action in our view.” To read our full press statement, please click here.

Hanford Challenge is hiring!

June 12, 2015.
Hanford Challenge is currently seeking a full-time Development Manager. The Development Manager is responsible for fundraising, planning events, and communicating program work and general office administration to support and increase the capacity of Hanford Challenge. This position will report to and work closely with the Operations Director.

To learn more about the position, you can see our complete listing on Idealist.org or click here.

Hanford Whistleblower’s Complaint against Contractor Settled by Amicable Agreement

June 10, 2015.
The lawsuit filed by Shelly Doss, former Environmental Specialist at Hanford, against Hanford contractor Washington River Protection Solutions, Inc. is resolved.

An Administrative Law Judge from the U.S. Department of Labor issued an Order Approving Settlement on April 9, 2015. In approving the agreement, Judge Morris penned, “I have reviewed the contents of the parties’ proposed Agreement. I find that the provisions of the parties’ Agreement are fair and adequate and are not contrary to the public interest.”

Shelly Doss is hopeful for the future and Hanford cleanup. She said, “I am excited to move on to the next chapter of my life, enjoy more time with my family and friends, and continue to advocate for a safe cleanup of Hanford.”

Hanford Challenge’s Executive Director, Tom Carpenter, stated, “It is essential that Hanford establish and maintain a safety culture that both encourages and protects the raising of safety and environmental concerns. We applaud Shelly Doss for her efforts, and will continue to stand behind employees like her who report issues.”

To read our full statement, please click here.

Hanford Challenge Urges Congress, Department of Energy to take action on Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant

June 2, 2015
Hanford Challenge distributed letters today urging action on the recently released GAO report regarding the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant (WTP). In particular, the GAO made several recommendations to the Department of Energy which, if implemented, would serve to protect the Pacific Northwest from a nuclear accident and improve the level of confidence in the treatment capacity of high-level radioactive waste at Hanford. We are requesting that they take steps to adapt these recommendations, and consider further steps to improve the regulatory system at Hanford.

To read our letter to Department of Energy Secretary Moniz, please click here.
To read our letter to Senator Cantwell and others, please click here.

Hanford Challenge Spring 2015 Newsletter is out now!

May 28, 2015

Environmental Protection Agency and Department Of Energy K Basin settlement spurs Hanford Cleanup

May 26, 2015.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have reached a settlement over DOE’s failure to meet a critical September 2014 Tri-Party Agreement milestone for beginning sludge removal from the K West Basin. The settlement includes an updated achievable and enforceable timetable for beginning and completing sludge removal from the Basin.To read the EPA’s full press release, please click here.

To read all of the latest Hanford news coverage, please visit our Newsroom. Or join the conversation and follow us on Facebook and Twitter – tell us what you think about Hanford cleanup!

Federal judge agrees to modify Hanford consent decree

May 12, 2015
On May 11, 2015 a federal judge has agreed to consider three proposals to modify the court-enforced Hanford consent decree signed in 2010. “Things could get interesting, now that a federal district court judge has ruled that the legal agreement between the US government and the State of Washington should be modified to reflect the fact that Hanford will not be meeting its cleanup deadlines. Washington State recently declared that Hanford is 25 years behind on the cleanup at Hanford. A GAO report just dinged Hanford for more mismanagement. Unhappily, all a court can do is issue decrees and orders…..but only Congress and the Administration can fix what is wrong at Hanford. In a nutshell, that means replacing the Department of Energy with an agency that is actually interested in, and capable of, conducting a transparent and accountable cleanup of the most contaminated site in the nation.” – Tom Carpenter, Hanford Challenge Executive Director

To read more, please click here.
To read the Washington State Attorney General’s full statement, please click here.

Press Release: 9th Circuit Denies Hanford Contractor’s Motion For Further Review, And Sends Tamosaitis Whistleblower Case Back To Trial Court For Jury Trial

March 4, 2015
Please click here for the press release prepared by Jack Sheridan, attorney to Hanford whistleblower Dr. Walt Tamosaitis.

Statement from Hanford Challenge:
“This is an important turning point not only for Dr. Tamosaitis, but for all employees at the Hanford nuclear site and sites like it nationwide. Hanford has fought tooth and nail to deny Dr. Tamosaitis his day in court, and it has taken four years just to get to this point. This case highlights the hypocrisy of Hanford officials who claim that they have “zero tolerance for retaliation against whistleblowers.”

Union and Public Interest Advocates Serve Notice of Intent to Sue, Plan to Seek Order to Protect Workers

November 20, 2014
Hanford Challenge, United Association Local 598, and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility announce service of notice of intent to sue the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Hanford contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS). Groups seek to ensure that workers at the Hanford nuclear site are protected from exposures to toxic vapors from Hanford’s high-level nuclear waste tanks.

To read the full press release, please click here.

Useful links:

  1. Citizen’s Notice of Intent to Sue 
  2. Selected Findings from Savannah River report
  3. Selected Findings from Past Reports on Vapor Exposures at Hanford
  4. Diana Gegg decision in vapor exposure case
  5. List of Reports on Hanford Vapor Issue with Links
  6. Letter from HC to WA State Attorney General on state oversight

Chemical Vapor Exposure Resources

At least 56 workers have received medical evaluations after suffering exposures to chemical vapors at the Hanford nuclear site since March 19, 2014.

Take Action!

Contact your members of Congress on the following issues:

  • External oversight to ensure that DOE and the contractor protect the workforce from future vapor exposures and support workers who have suffered injury from past exposures.
  • Empty actively leaking underground storage tanks.
  • Build new environmentally compliant tanks.
  • Create plans to remove, treat, and dispose of waste that has leaked into the soil and groundwater beneath the tanks.
  • Begin an external, independent, licensing review that determines how to salvage the Waste Treatment Plant.
  • Give authority to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to certify whether and when the WTP can operate from a nuclear safety standpoint.
  • Make harassment and reprisal against whistleblowers a civil and criminal offense.
  • Create a cleanup agency whose only mission is remediation of retired government nuclear and toxic facilities.
  • Our Mission

    To help create a future for Hanford that secures human health and safety, advances accountability, and promotes a sustainable environmental legacy.
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