Hanford Challenge Press Releases

Federal Court to Hear Arguments  on Toxic Vapor Protections

"Workers have suffered irreparable harm due to defendants' failure to mandate respiratory protection and such harm is likely to recur unless the court grants the requested injunction."

October 10, 2016

Seattle:  A federal court will hear arguments on Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 9:45 am at the Thomas S. Foley U.S. Courthouse in Spokane, Washington in a high-stakes case to consider two separate motions (AG and Citizen Plaintiffs) related to the Hanford nuclear site’s toxic vapor program.  The proceedings are open to the public.

“At stake is whether Hanford will be allowed to remove protective measures and once again put Hanford workers in harm’s way, despite the scores of workers who have suffered horribly from toxic vapor exposures,” said Tom Carpenter, Director of Hanford Challenge.

Lawsuits were filed against the Hanford nuclear site owner DOE and its contractor WRPS in federal court in September 2015, after numerous workers reported symptoms and illnesses from toxic vapor exposures resulting from working on Hanford’s underground nuclear waste tanks.  Hanford is a former plutonium production facility in southeastern Washington State, undergoing a massive cleanup effort.

Over 170 tanks, each containing up to one million gallons of high-level nuclear waste, continuously and episodically release unfiltered toxic vapors into the breathing zone of Hanford workers, many of whom were not required to use respiratory protection until recently.

The plaintiffs include the WA Attorney General, Hanford Challenge and UA Local 598 (pipefitters).  The defendants are the Department of Energy (DOE) and a Hanford contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS).

Plaintiffs have requested the federal court to issue an order, called a preliminary injunction, that would impose immediate requirements on the defendants to:

  • require the use of supplied air (SCBA) for all workers inside the fences at the Hanford tank farms;
  • post a 200-foot vapor control zone requiring supplied air use during waste-disturbing activities; and
  • install and deploy monitoring and alarming technologies on tanks.

If the court grants the motion for a preliminary injunction in whole or in part, the requested relief would stay in effect until the trial, which is currently set for September 2017.

View the entire press release here

Hanford Whistleblowers Win Trial


September 19, 2016

Seattle, WA: Two Hanford nuclear site whistleblowers were vindicated in a strongly-worded court decision released today, with the judge directing a Hanford contractor to pay $216,080 in back pay and compensatory damages, before interest and attorney fees and costs.

Kirtley Clem and Matthew Spencer were employed as computer professionals at Hanford’s medical clinic, operated at the time by a contractor called Computer Sciences Corporation, or “CSC.” They were removed from the workplace in September 2012 after reporting numerous failures with a new Electronic Medical Records system (called “OHM”) to their supervisors and the U.S. Department of Energy. They alleged that the system could put worker health and safety at risk, but their concerns were brushed aside by management and the system was deployed over their objections.

Left to right: Matthew Spencer, Nikolas Peterson, & Kirtley Clem

Left to right: Matthew Spencer, Nikolas Peterson, & Kirtley Clem

The decision was filed by Judge Christopher Larsen, an Administrative Law Judge with the U.S. Department of Labor, on September 12, 2016, following a six-day trial in Kennewick, Washington.

In his decision, Judge Larsen characterized some of CSC’s arguments as “an astonishing display of chutzpah,” “evidentiary hash” and “not convincing.” 

Judge Larsen found that CSC could not articulate—even at trial—a consistent reason for suspending Mr. Clem and Mr. Spencer. CSC had argued that Mr. Clem and Mr. Spencer were suspended for sharing confidential information with a competitor. However, CSC failed to make this argument at trial. Judge Larsen found that “there is simply no evidence in the record that Mr. Clem and Mr. Spencer had such information in the first place, much less passed it on” and that CSC’s “inability precisely to identify exactly what information [was] allegedly supplied . . . speaks volumes.”

Mr. Clem and Mr. Spencer are both represented by Hanford Challenge Staff Attorney Nikolas Peterson and outside counsel Stephani Ayers. Mr. Peterson said, “Hanford Challenge is proud to represent ethical employees like Kirt and Matt, and trust that this case will send a message to Hanford employers that retaliating against employees who raise safety, health, and other concerns is illegal and expensive.”

Mr. Clem said, “While I feel vindicated by this decision, I continue to be very disappointed in the DOE's inadequate protections for whistleblowers. DOE continues to tell employees they have the right and duty to raise concerns and that retaliation will not be tolerated. All too often, DOE pays the legal expenses for these contractors engaging in retaliation.” Clem concluded, “I'm also extremely appreciative of our legal team. They did an outstanding job. If it weren't for people like Mr. Peterson and Ms. Ayers, whistleblowers would have a much harder time defending themselves.”

View the entire press release here.

Hanford Worker Blows Whistle on 222-S Labs

Hanford Toxic chemical vapor issue goes beyond tank farms

July 29, 2016

Seattle, WA: Hanford Challenge released a Complaint filed on June 1, 2016 by Hanford Whistleblower David Lee, an Instrument Specialist at the 222-S Labs, which is operated by Washington River Protection Solutions, Inc. (WRPS).

Mr. Lee was suspended and had his badge taken away after he called a Stop Work due to unsafe working conditions at a Hanford laboratory, including inadequate ventilation of the labs and inadequate handling of toxic oil from the lab equipment, resulting in potential vapor and dermal exposures to toxic waste without the proper protective equipment.

Nikolas F. Peterson, Staff Attorney at Hanford Challenge stated, “If Hanford continues to punish workers who raise concerns, then the message to the workforce is clear—look the other way and do not say anything. This is a recipe for disaster at a nuclear cleanup facility. In bringing this suit, Hanford Challenge is making sure that Dave, and other Hanford workers like Dave, have a voice.” 

This complaint comes on the heels of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) slamming the Department of Energy on its failure to protect and encourage the reporting of critical nuclear and environmental safety issues at nuclear facilities. At a Press Conference for the GAO report, Senator Ron Wyden-OR said, “It is clear that Department of Energy contractors are going to go to amazing lengths to send a signal to their employees that when you blow the whistle, it is going to be the end of your career.” Sen. Wyden continued, “In my view the Department [of Energy] is guilty of willful negligence at best, and at worst, actively aiding in the violation of whistleblower rights.” 

View the entire press release here.

AG, Hanford Challenge and UA Local 598 ask court to order immediate worker protections at Hanford

July 21, 2016

Olympia, WA: In the aftermath of more than 50 workers exposed to toxic vapors at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Hanford Challenge and a Hanford union today asked a federal court to immediately order the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), to implement enhanced safety and vapor monitoring measures. Despite decades of knowing about the vapor problem, numerous reports outlining the issue, and the State of Washington’s lawsuit highlighting worker safety problems at Hanford, Energy and WRPS actually reduced worker safety measures such as supplied air since the lawsuit’s filing last September. “I’ve been asking for months: How many sick Washington workers will it take before the federal government fixes this problem?” Ferguson said. “The federal government’s culture of indifference to worker safety at Hanford must end. Now.”

“We are acting today to protect the Hanford workforce and end exposures to toxic chemical vapors at Hanford. Too many workers have already gotten sick and even disabled by brain and lung diseases. Hanford's cleanup mission will last decades, and workers deserve a safe workplace now and into the future,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge.

The Attorney General filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. The state filed its lawsuit against the federal government over Hanford worker safety in September 2015. Hanford Challenge, an advocacy group promoting worker health and safety, and UA Local 598, filed a similar motion in its own worker safety lawsuit.

Additional documents related to today’s filing will be uploaded here as they are filed with the court today.

View the entire press release here.

Hanford Challenge Response to GAO Report on Whistleblower Protection

July 14, 2016

Seattle, WA: Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report criticizing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its handling of whistleblower protections. The GAO report is just the latest report documenting the long history of DOE’s failure to protect and encourage the reporting of critical nuclear and environmental safety issues at its aging and dangerous facilities.

Hanford Challenge releases their comments. View the entire press statement here.

Hanford Challenge Response to DOE Press Release on Vapors

"CORREcting" king 5's coverage

The Department of Energy (DOE), owner of the Hanford nuclear site in southeastern

Washington State, recently issued a press statement dated 5/27/2016 to “address and correct

factual inaccuracies contained in KING 5’s June 8 report, “Hanford continues to mislead workers about

toxic vapors.” 1 The “corrections” made by DOE to King 5 are misleading and contrary to statements

made in a recent expert report which DOE and the contractor claim to have accepted.

Town Hall: It's Your Turn to Speak Up


June 27, 2016

What: Public Meeting, It's Your Turn to Speak Up: Vapor Exposures at Hanford

When: Wednesday, June 29, 2016, 6:30-9:00 p.m.

Where: UA Local 598 (Pipefitters) Union Hall, 1328 N 28th Ave, Pasco, WA 99301 (directions)

Who: Bob Ferguson, Attorney General; Representatives from the offices of Senators Murray, Cantwell and Wyden; Tom Carpenter, Hanford Challenge; other public officials including mayors from the Tri-Cities; union officials; and other political figures.

Hanford Challenge has collaborated with Local Union 598 to hold a public meeting about worker health and safety on the Hanford site. The meeting, It's Your Turn to Speak Up: Vapor Exposures at Hanford will be held on Wednesday, June 29 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the UA Local 598 (Pipefitters) union hall.

The purpose of this meeting is to advocate for worker health and safety surrounding the issue of vapor exposures at Hanford. Giving public concerns a voice may speed along the implementation for better protections of Hanford workers.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson will be the keynote speaker, and there will be a few other short presentations before the floor is opened to public comment.  Representatives from the offices of Senators Murray, Cantwell and Wyden will be in attendance, as well as other public officials including mayors from the Tri-Cities and union officials.  Members of the public will have three to five minutes of time each to speak.

Elevated Radiation Indicator of Second Double-Shell Tank Failure at Hanford Nuclear Site

Plutonium, Cesium-137 Levels Detected in AY-101 Outer Shell

April 26, 2016

Seattle, WA: Hanford Challenge today alleged that a second high-level nuclear waste tank at the Hanford nuclear site may have failed. 

The group, citing sources inside Hanford, says that above-background levels of Cesium-137, plutonium and a high-beta emitter (likely Strontium-90) all radioactive by-products commonly found in Hanford tanks, were recently measured outside of the primary liner in Tank AY-101, one of the first of the 28 double-shelled tanks built at Hanford about 40 years ago.  Those measurements were confirmed to a highdegree of certainty, according to Hanford sources.

“The presence of these radioactive materials in the outer shell of the tank, known as the annulus, is a solid indicator that the primary shell of the tank has failed and is leaking high-level nuclear waste into the outer shell.  This is the same indicator that tipped off workers that AY-102 had failed,” said Mike Geffre, an Instrument Technician who worked at Hanford who first discovered and disclosed the AY-102 leak.

The failure of a second double-shell tank at Hanford has very serious implications for the future:  “Simply put, Hanford is nearly out of double-shell tank space, especially after pumping out AY-102 and emptying some of the shakier single-shell tanks,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director for Hanford Challenge.  “There is no other realistic option but to begin building new tanks immediately.”  The construction of new tanks may take from 5 to 7 years.

Tank AY-101 began operations in April 1971.  It currently contains about 578,000 gallons of high-level waste.  According to a Hanford report, corrosion was first observed in AY-101 in 1992, when video inspections in the annulus showed rust on areas of the primary tank and secondary liner walls. Further video inspection in January and February 2001 showed extensive corrosion on the walls of the annulus and the interior of primary tank. The video also showed a stain pattern that suggested a leakage of water through the primary tank wall from the annulus. 

More recently, in January 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it had inspected AY-101 tank and found that there was no leak at that time.  That inspection occurred because of the acknowledged failure of AY-102.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO, 15-40report in 2014 found that, “DOE officials and members of a 2014 expert panel convened to examine the integrity of the DSTs [double-shell tanks] have said that corrosion is a threat to DST integrity, and, according to the panel, that there are deficiencies in DOE’s understanding of corrosion in all of the DSTs . . . DOE reported that at least 12 of the other 27 DSTs have similar construction flaws.”  GAO, Id. At 14.

 On Monday, April 18, 2016, King 5 News in Seattle reported that liquid levels of high-level waste in the outer shell of Tank AY-102 suddenly increased by thousands of gallons over the weekend.  Approximately three to five thousand gallons of liquid waste ended up in the outer shell.


The Hanford nuclear site is the most contaminated facility in North America, storing two-thirds of the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.  Hanford was built during World War II to produce the plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.  Hanford went on to create the plutonium for much of the US nuclear arsenal, leaving behind a complicated, dangerous and expensive legacy of radioactive waste.

The AY tanks are just 2 of the 177 underground nuclear waste tanks containing an estimated 56 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste. 67 single-shell tanks have leaked over one million gallons to the soil and groundwater.  The double-shell waste tanks were built to be the safeguard against new single-shell tank leaks, and, until AY-102 failed, were previously considered to be stable and non- leaking. Double-shelled tanks have two steel walls, with a “tank within a tank” design that adds to the safety margin.

Trial in Hanford Whistleblower Case

Labor department found in favor of walt ford in case against bechtel National, Inc. 

March 14, 2016

What: Whistleblower retaliation hearing in the case of former Hanford worker Walt Ford against Bechtel National, Inc. and URS Energy & Construction

When: Tuesday, March 15, 2016, beginning at 8:30 am and expected to last 4 days 

Where: Benton County Justice Center, 7320 West Quinault Avenue, Kennewick, WA 99336

Background:  Mr. Ford was a Hanford millwright who worked for Bechtel National. He filed a complaint with the Labor Department in 2012 after being “laid off” in late 2011. Prior to his termination, Mr. Ford filed numerous reports concerning worker health and safety. The Secretary of Labor ruled that because he raised these concerns, Mr. Ford “was scrutinized and treated more harshly than other employees,” and that raising the concerns “was a contributing factor in Respondent Bechtel’s layoff decision.” The Energy Reorganization Act (ERA), a federal law, prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers.

Walt Ford, who has worked at the Hanford site for more than 30 years, has a history of speaking up in favor of safety. In 2000, Ford filed safety complaints with Fluor Hanford, Inc. regarding the Spent Nuclear Fuel Project. In 2004, he testified on behalf of his supervisor, Richard Cecil, who blew the whistle on Fluor. After being hired by Bechtel in 2007, Mr. Ford consistently reported safety concerns, and served as the Chair of Bechtel’s Materials Handling Facility Safety Council, a position he was voted into by his peers.

The Secretary of Labor’s finding was issued in August 2015, and found that Mr. Ford, a former employee of Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) was wrongfully terminated by Bechtel National, Inc. in 2011 in retaliation for raising safety concerns.

Nikolas Peterson, Staff Attorney at Hanford Challenge, and Stephani Ayers, lead counsel for Mr. Ford, are representing him in a hearing that starts on Tuesday, March 15 at the Benton County Justice Center, at 8:30 am.  The hearing is open to the public.

Hanford Plutonium-Contaminated Equipment Leads to Facility Shutdown, Contamination Found Offsite

Hanford plutonium-contaminated equipment leads to facility shutdown, contamination found offsite. Plutonium contaminated equipment found in Richland location, federal and state inquiries launched into where else contaminated equipment may have been shipped.

Ohio governor deploys hazmat team along with rad response teams to Ohio location. 

December 18, 2015

Richland, WA:  A plutonium-contaminated suit and contaminated equipment led to the shutdown of high-hazard work at Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant, leading to the discovery of plutonium contaminated equipment at a Richland, WA area location.  Department of Energy Radiation Response Teams and Ohio hazmat team have made inquiries into contaminated equipment that was shipped off-site.

Contamination was first discovered on December 10, 2015 inside the suit of a Hanford worker assigned to clean-up at the Plutonium Finishing Plant, a heavily-contaminated facility that is being decommissioned and demolished.

Contamination was also discovered on a small cooling unit on the suits.  Though the suits are discarded after use, the cooling units, called Vortex Coolers, are reused.

According to sources that contacted Hanford Challenge from the site, many of the Vortex Coolers were evaluated for contamination, with plutonium contamination found on some of the units.

Plutonium contamination was reportedly found on some Vortex units at the Hanford Fire station, which is on the Hanford Site, but outside of the Plutonium Finishing Plant.  What’s more, other Vortex units had been shipped off-site.

Reportedly, three or more of the units were shipped to a vendor’s home in Richland, WA.  A check of those units revealed a small amount of plutonium contamination.  Though the amounts were small, contaminated equipment should never have been allowed to leave the Hanford Site.

Several units were being transported to Pennsylvania, and a stop was made in Cincinnati, apparently at a Mission Support Alliance facility (MSA is a Hanford contractor).  Sources told Hanford Challenge that Ohio Governor Kasich ordered a hazmat unit, along with federal Radiation Response Teams, to the MSA location to check on those units. Apparently, no contamination was found in either Ohio or Pennsylvania.

Sources also claim that President Obama was briefed because plutonium had gone missing from a government-owned plutonium factory.

Workers at Hanford have also alleged that possibly unqualified workers may have been utilized as a cost-saving measure in the facility.

Hanford Challenge raises the following questions for the Department of Energy:

  1. Why has Hanford failed to notify the public about these incidents, despite having learned of the incidents weeks ago, and then only revealing it after being questioned by a reporter, tipped off by Hanford Challenge?
  2. Have any workers been exposed to contamination?  If so, how much contamination, and are workers at risk?
  3. Has DOE identified, located and tested all Vortex units that were at one time in use at Hanford?
  4. Were unqualified or uncertified workers used at the facility as a cost-saving measure?

Hanford Challenge’s Executive Director, Tom Carpenter, stated, “What kind of operation is Hanford running out there?  The failure of the government to notify the public is outrageous, and begs the question about what else they aren’t choosing to reveal. There needs to be a serious and deep inquiry into how this could have happened and how to prevent it from happening again.”

Is the Waste Treatment Plant Dead in the Water?

DOE proposal delays startup of WTP by 17 years.  It is time to face reality and make a plan B.

November 23, 2015

Seattle, WA:       Today, Hanford Challenge called on the Obama Administration to stop-work at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant and immediately undertake the construction of 12 new underground nuclear waste storage tanks.

Hanford Challenge, a public interest organization that is working to bring about a safe and effective cleanup of the nation’s largest and most expensive environmental cleanup, issued the call in response to the U.S. Department of Energy’s proposal to a federal court to adopt a new date of 2039 for the full startup of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant (WTP).  The plant was originally scheduled to begin full-scale operations in 2011.

“Technical issues, delays, cost overruns, and quality assurance problems have been the story of this economic and environmental boondoggle.  We have seen failure after failure in the attempt to save this sinking ship.  Is the WTP dead in the water?  Hanford Challenge wants Hanford’s highly radioactive tank waste immobilized in glass, but this path is not going to get us there.  We need a plan B,” stated Hanford Challenge’s Executive Director Tom Carpenter.

Congress and the Administration should —

  • Immediately require DOE to build new waste tanks.
  • Stop all work on the Waste Treatment Plant
  • Establish an independent entity to design a new path forward for treating all 56 million gallons of tank waste and determine if the WTP facility can be salvaged at all, given its myriad of problems.
  • Replace Bechtel with a company that has a history of honestly meeting its performance guarantees and instilling a strong organizational culture, safety culture, and safety conscious work environment.
  • Strengthen the whistleblower protection laws for both DOE and contractor personnel at nuclear facilities and make retaliation against whistleblowers a criminal act. When found guilty, laws should stipulate that contractors are subject to punitive damages and are at risk of losing their contract.
  • Replace DOE with a commission that has the technical capacity and mandate to conduct a safe and effective nuclear cleanup with meaningful involvement of stakeholders, tribes and the public in decision making.

When Bechtel won the bid in 2000, it said it would cost $4.6 billion dollars to build the plant and their motto was “glass in 2008”.  Now we are looking at a cumulative delay of over 3 decades and a total cost that will likely exceed $30 billion just to design and construct the facility.  As designed, the WTP is only able to treat a fraction of the 56 million gallons of high-level tank waste.  Note that these cited costs do not include the cost to operate these facilities nor treat the waste the WTP is not designed to handle.

“The facts must be faced: this plant has seen nothing but delay and more delay.  By 2039 much of the plant equipment will be obsolete, equipment and pipes corroded and unreliable.  It will be a safety nightmare,” said Carpenter.

Congress funds Bechtel nearly $700 million dollars per year.  If this rate of spending continues over the course of DOE’s proposed 17 year delay, it will cost taxpayers an additional $12 billion, in addition to the $19 billion that has already been spent according to a June 2015 GAO estimate .  This amounts to a $31 billion dollar investment in a facility that in all likelihood will not be licensable due to its quality assurance issues.

There is a documented pattern of reprisals and terminations related to the reporting of nuclear safety concerns at the Waste Treatment Plant.  Senior technical managers and scientists have been publicly blowing the whistle on these concerns since 2010. Systemic change is needed to end this cultural of reprisal.

One-third of Hanford’s 177 high-level radioactive waste tanks have leaked more than a million gallons that threaten the Columbia River – the largest fresh water artery in the Northwest United States.  Despite a 30 year effort to engineer a vitrification system to safely immobilize this waste, not a single drop has been processed for safe disposal.

“The United States put a human on the moon in less than a decade using slide rulers, but DOE and Bechtel cannot build a waste treatment plant in less than 40 years.   Systemic changes are needed to avoid repeating the failures of the past.  The stakes are too high to continue business as usual,” said Carpenter.

Hearing in Hanford Whistleblower Cases Start on Tuesday 

IT Programmers Removed from Workplace after Reporting Concerns over Potential Endangerment with Electronic Medical Records System at Hanford Clinic

November 16, 2015

WHAT: Hearing before a U.S. Labor Department Administrative Law Judge on a case involving two former Hanford IT professionals who were removed after reporting a broken electronic medical system whose failure risks exposing workers and putting workers’ health and safety in jeopardy.

WHEN: Tuesday, November 17, 2015, 9 am to 4 pm, through Thursday, 9 am to 4 pm.

WHO: The two IT professionals are Kirt Clem and Matthew Spencer, represented by Hanford Challenge’s staff attorney Nikolas Peterson and outside counsel Stephani Ayers.  The contractor is CSC, Inc., currently a sub-contractor to HPMC Occupational Medical Services, otherwise known as the Hanford medical clinic.  The U.S. Department of Labor implements whistleblower protection laws, including the Nuclear Whistleblower Protection Act, through the Administrative Law Judge office.

WHERE: Benton County Justice Center, 7320 West Quinault Avenue, Kennewick, WA 99336