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MARCH 11, 2014
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McCaskill Raises Deep Concerns About Whistleblower Retaliation at Hanford Nuclear Site
Senator hears testimony on safety culture; whistleblowers fired after raising safety concerns
WASHINGTON – Continuing her work to protect whistleblowers and strengthen accountability across federal agencies, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill hosted a roundtable discussion to hear from whistleblowers who were fired after raising safety concerns at the Hanford nuclear site, and led a formal hearing on whistleblower retaliation.
The roundtable and hearing examined the safety culture at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, a federal nuclear facility in Hanford, Washington, and reports of whistleblower retaliation by Department of Energy (DOE) contractors at the site. One of the major contractors at the site, URS, recently fired Donna Busche, its Environmental and Nuclear Safety Manager, who had repeatedly raised safety concerns with the facility. URS fired another employee who raised safety concerns, Dr. Walter Tamosaitis, in October 2013.
Video of today’s roundtable is available online HERE.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be a whistleblower,” said McCaskill, a former Missouri State Auditor and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight. “Reporting your colleagues, who may be your friends, for actions that look like waste, fraud, abuse or a danger to others, isn’t an easy decision for most people. And life after you’ve blown the whistle isn’t easy either. But the job that whistleblowers do is tremendously important and valuable. That’s why, when courageous men and women feel compelled to speak out, we do not want to silence them. We want to give them a process that allows them to report that information without fear of retaliation.”
At the roundtable discussion, McCaskill heard directly from the two whistleblowers. At the hearing, McCaskill examined and questioned the roles and responsibilities of the Department of Energy and its contractors regarding whistleblowers who raise safety concerns.
“Rather than fix the problems at Hanford, the contractors and Federal agencies involved are simply trying to silence the people who raise concerns,” said Senator Ron Wyden, who participated in the roundtable. “The only way these serious matters have become public knowledge is because courageous, committed employees like these two individuals have come forward to tell us and to tell the American people. I will continue working with Sen. McCaskill to get to the bottom of what’s going on at Hanford, starting with our request to GAO to investigate not only the actions of the contractors in retaliating against whistleblowers, but also those of the DOE, which has done nothing to stop this unacceptable behavior.”
The Hanford Waste Treatment Plant is a federal nuclear facility currently being built to convert hazardous, highly radioactive nuclear waste into a more stable and safe form for permanent disposal. However, the costs of constructing the Waste Treatment Plant have skyrocketed, and the estimated date of completion has been pushed back repeatedly—owing largely to a simultaneous “design-build” approach, which has led to construction without first resolving with technical challenges associated with the pumping radioactive material from the tanks to the plant.
Critics of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant have expressed numerous safety concerns—including the potential for hydrogen explosions and uncontrolled nuclear reactions. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has expressed repeated concerns about explosive conditions due to hydrogen gas generation within the tanks that could lead to dispersal of radioactive waste at Hanford. Critics are also concerned about radioactive seepage into the ground water and nearby Columbia River.
Click HERE to read highlights of McCaskill’s fight for stronger accountability in Washington.
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