RICHLAND, Wash. – Workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation's waste treatment plant fear retribution if they bring up safety concerns. That's according to a new report out Friday from an independent investigative arm of the federal Department of Energy. The investigators say the project's safety culture is in need of repair.
The report does say several times that the Department of Energy that manages Hanford and federal contractors Bechtel and URS are trying to improve their safety cultures. But it also doesn't mince words.
The investigation found a "significant number" of workers don't feel free to bring up safety or quality concerns on the project. This, despite assurances from top Energy Department and Bechtel officials that safety is a top priority.
The issue is important because the waste treatment plant is supposed to process 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge now sitting in aging underground tanks near the Columbia River.
The new report says if the plant isn't designed and constructed with the utmost safety and care it won't work, or it will break down.
But investigators found that managers let design or safety issues slip through the cracks, or get downgraded into lower-levels of importance. Contractors on the waste treatment plant told investigators they thought that schedule pressures have resulted in instances where safety rules weren't followed or they "cut corners" on work and didn't meet quality standards.
For example: Nearly half of the electrical workers on the project thought retaliation is a real possibility at work.
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Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio