Senate Hearing Contemplates Nuclear Whistle Blower Protections

Updated 4 years ago Edited by Tony Rutherford from Multiple Reports
A U.S. Senate hearing regarding the firing of two “whistleblowers” at the under construction Hanford Waste Treatment Plant raised serious issues concerning employer retaliation who warned of hydrogen explosions and uncontrolled reactions.

Sen.  Claire McCaskill stressed the firings of key safety personnel “chilled” safety culture at the site.

URS, the site’s major contractor, fired Donna Busche, its Environmental and Nuclear Safety Manager, and Dr. Walter Tamosaitis allegedly for “severe misconduct and (mis)behavior.”

McCaskill explored litigation in balance, which allows  contractor defense “money to keep flowing” which   “wears down” the privately financed  “whistleblowers” through a “depose, delay, bill, depose, delay, bill” sequence in which the government generally pays the contractors legal fees.  “This is not a level playing field,” the Senator admonished.

She proposed a control that would encourage more rapid adjudication by putting legal expenses on the contractor after they reach an unnamed amount.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson honed on the need for additional regulations and institutional controls, acknowledging during the delays of related  Hanford cases an aquifer has become contaminated by leaking radioactive waste in deteriorating Manhattan Project and post-World War II containers that leaked into ground water.

“This is a big mess,” Sen. Johnson said concerning the alleged reprisals and absence of a safety culture.

 Observing that private business has been active in safety for 20 years, he ridiculed an answer that in his words admitted “that DOE only in the last couple of years pulled its head out of the sand with safety and security issues.”

Cost overruns and design changes have 2019 as the earliest projection when the plutonium waste will start a conversion process to “glassification.”  Under current projections the current waste at Hanford would not be fully converted until nearly 2050, leaving it at list of contaminating the nearby Columbia River.

The two contractors consider --- URS and Becktel --- consider themselves among the nation’s best referring to companies in France and Japan as their equals.

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