Hanford News

Hanford Challenge Releases Original Suppressed Internal Review on Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant

Review, Released by Whistleblower, Reveals 362 Significant Design Vulnerabilities in Low Activity Waste Facility

August 26, 2015

Hanford Challenge today released a suppressed internal review provided by a confidential whistleblower of a federal facility on a fast-track to treat nuclear waste in southeastern Washington State which reveals a programmatic breakdown in the design and construction of a facility that has largely been completed.

The 2014 draft review, entitled, “Low-Activity Waste Facility Design and Operability Review and Recommendations,” was obtained by the group through an anonymous source who worked at the Hanford site. The Low Activity Waste facility is designed to treat waste from Hanford’s high-level nuclear waste tanks that will be pre-treated to remove the highly-radioactive materials before being mixed with glass formers in a facility designed to vitrify the low level waste.

Hanford Challenge released a portion of the message transmitting the document, which expressed the source’s fear of retaliation:

“I have worked at WTP for many years.  I have been deeply concerned about the safety culture.  It is not improved, it is the worst I have ever seen.  Never in my long professional career have I seen anything that even resembles the deceit and lack of integrity that I have seen here.  I have raised issues and solutions and in my opinion I have been retaliated against.  As an engineer, it is my job to fix things, but under the current environment that is not possible without risking my livelihood and further retaliation.  I apologize for the obscurity of this email, but if it were found out that I were even thinking about telling the truth, or bringing up these issues, I would be looking for another job.

I have been waiting for months for the DOE to issue this report, but this upcoming public meeting has prompted me to get the word out.  I am disappointed in the lack of transparency and leadership that the DOE has demonstrated in this regard.  Some of the issues, if not resolved, will result in millions of dollars of cost to the tax payer, and could possibly result in injuries to the future workers.  This is simply unacceptable.  I wish we had a culture that would allow me to talk freely and openly.”

read the full press release here

Hanford Scientist Dr. Walter Tamosaitis Settles Whistleblower Lawsuit for $4.1 Million

August 12, 2015

Dr. Walter Tamosaitis, the former Research & Technology Manager for Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant, has reached a legal settlement with his former employer, URS, Inc. (now AECOM), it was announced today.

Dr. Tamosaitis had been removed from his position in July 2010 after raising serious safety concerns that would impact the overall safety and operation of a nuclear waste treatment facility under construction at the Hanford nuclear site in southeastern Washington State.

Hanford Challenge Director Tom Carpenter first met with Dr. Tamosaitis immediately following his initial removal from Hanford in July 2010.  Hanford Challenge has supported Dr. Tamosaitis and helped bring attention to his case to Congress, the media, and in public comments and testimony.

“We are proud of all that Dr. Tamosaitis has accomplished,” said Carpenter.  “His concerns have led to the Department of Energy to abandon a dangerously defective design, and to call attention to the abysmal treatment of employees who bring forward safety issues.  Walt has kept a single-minded focus on the safety of the public and workers, and I know he will not truly rest until these issues are resolved and Hanford can safely vitrify nuclear waste.  The public owes Walt a debt of gratitude for his sacrifices.”

Read the full press release here.

U.S. Labor Department Finds for Hanford Whistleblower

August 10, 2015
The U.S. Secretary of Labor (DOL) recently found that a former employee, Walt Ford, of Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) was wrongfully terminated by Bechtel National, Inc. in 2011 in retaliation for raising safety concerns. The U.S. Department of Labor orders back pay and emotional distress damages, citing that “Evidence indicates that Complainant was scrutinized and treated more harshly than other employees.”

Nikolas Peterson, Staff Attorney at Hanford Challenge, said: “Hanford Challenge celebrates with Mr. Ford in his recent victory over Bechtel. We are looking to the Department of Energy to take
concrete steps to address the culture of hostility at Hanford. We are hopeful that safety will begin to improve as more whistleblowers, like Mr. Ford, receive favorable findings from the Labor Department.”

Read the full press release here.

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.

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

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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