Energy | Ecotrope

Question safety at Hanford? Go choke on a cherry...

Ecotrope | Aug. 10, 2010 10:08 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:47 p.m.

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Walter Tamosaitis and his wife, Sandy.

Walter Tamosaitis and his wife, Sandy.

In a Northwest News Network radio story today, whistleblower Walter Tamosaitis shares his side of the story on how he was fired from his upper-level management job at the Hanford nuclear site.

He believes he was fired for raising concerns about the safety of a new vitrification plant at Hanford, and he’s asked the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to investigate (they’re looking into it). The $12 billion vit plant is going to turn radioactive sludge leftover from Hanford’s plutonium production into glass logs that will be more stable – less likely to leak into the groundwater and, potentially, the Columbia River.

I remember reading Tamosaitis’ story when it first broke because that was the day I happened to be visiting the Hanford site (about two weeks ago). I had to dig into my browser history to confirm the account I remembered reading in The Tri-City Herald (which has since been replaced with a shorter Associated Press version)

On July 1, he told the nuclear safety board, he brought a list of 50 concerns to a meeting with his superiors at Bechtel National (which has the contract to build the vit plant for the U.S. Department of Energy).

Apparently, they were eating cherries at some point during this meeting. And someone at the meeting, jokingly, suggested Tamosaitis might just “choke on the cherries.”

“While clearly intended as a joke,” Tamosaitis wrote (again, to the safety board), “this inappropriate comment … does, in my opinion, reflect the Bechtel management attitude and is consistent with the adverse safety and performance culture present by Bechtel. Personnel that have raised safety, quality and/or technical concerns in the past are subject to derision by Bechtel.”

The Herald reported that some of the issues he brought up at that meeting were how to prevent build-up of heavy particles of plutonium throughout the process and how to handle acid needed to do some of the clean-up.

The next day, he was escorted from his office without being allowed to collect his personal items.

Bechtel told the paper all 50 of Tamosaitis’ concerns are being addressed.

Since Tamosaitis complained, the U.S. Department of Energy and the state of Washington have launched investigations.

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