Hanford ‘Adverse to Safety’ according to Feds

The safety culture at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) waste treatment plant at the Hanford site in the state of Washington is “adverse to safety," according to a whistleblower

09/09/2011


The revelation comes on the heels of an investigation by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) entitled, “Safety Culture at the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant,” which analyzed the failures in the safety culture at the waste treatment plant.

DOE hired Bechtel and URS to design and build the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, which will be an industrial complex of facilities for separating and vitrifying (immobilizing in glass) millions of gallons of high-level nuclear tank waste stored in 177 large underground tanks on the Hanford site.

The report came as a result of a whistleblower, Dr. Walter Tamosaitis, an engineer with URS at Hanford, who called into question whether Bechtel met a contract milestone that resulted in a multi-million dollar bonus. After he questioned the bonus issue, Tamosaitis ended up reassigned to a basement cubicle “performing no meaningful work,” said his attorney, Jack Sheridan. Tamosaitis’ employer, URS, is a subcontractor for Bechtel.

On July 16, 2010, Tamosaitis wrote a letter to DNFSB Chairman Dr. Peter S. Winokur, saying, “I believe I have been subjected to workplace retaliation because of my efforts to ensure that issues potentially affecting public and worker safety are properly addressed.”

Noting his 40 years of company service and 10 years of service at the waste treatment plant, as well as bonuses and commendations he received, Tamosaitis said he was “constructively fired” on July 2, 2010. Up to the time of his dismissal from the project, he was a deputy chief process engineer and the research and technology manager, with a budget of $500 million over a 7-year period.

In his letter to Winokur, Tamosaitis said, “This culture of seeking to suppress safety and technical concerns within the project is not new. For example, it is known that the Bechtel and URS (waste treatment plant) project managers have both made statements that they will ‘kill the career’ [of a consultant] for indicating that additional vessel testing may be needed. It starts in 2003 with the first efforts to systematically identify technical issues that required resolution. Although routinely downplayed by senior Bechtel project management during reviews, these issues have not been trivial, and included prevention of an uncontrolled nuclear reaction (criticality) in the mixer tanks as well as ensuring process throughput capability so that the cleanup mission is completed within the design life of the plant (40 years).”

The ensuing investigation included interviews with 45 witnesses and the review of more than 30,000 pages of documents, the DNFSB said its investigation found “that both DOE and contractor project management behaviors reinforce a subculture at WTP that deters the timely reporting, acknowledgement and ultimate resolution of technical safety concerns.” The report noted:

  • There is a “chilled atmosphere adverse to safety” at Hanford in which employees are afraid they will suffer punishment if they raise safety concerns; and
  • DOE and its contractors at Hanford, Bechtel and URS, “suppress technical dissent.”

DNFSB has called upon DOE Secretary Steven Chu to “conduct a non-adversarial review of Tamosaitis’ removal and his current treatment by both DOE and contractor management and how that is affecting the safety culture at (waste treatment plant).”

Chu sent Winokur a letter in response to the report, saying “We agree with the Board’s position that establishment of a strict safety culture must be a fundamental principle throughout the DOE complex and we are in unqualified agreement with the Board that the JVTP mission is essential to protect the health and safety of the public, our workers, and the environment from radioactive wastes in aging storage tanks at Hanford.”

Tamosaitis is suing Bechtel and URS, saying he suffered from retaliation by whistleblowing. Emails show on July 1, 2010, a day after Bechel claimed the work was done supporting the bonus, DOE Manager Dale Knutson had discussions with Bechtel manager Frank Russo in which Russo criticized Tamosaitis’ concerns over the waste treatment plant. Russo wrote, “Walt is killing us.” In response to an email written by Tamosaitis discussing his concerns about the waste treatment plant, Knutson wrote to Russo, “If this shows up in the press we will be sticking to our previous comment… deliberate haste will be our approach.”



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Hannover Messe 2016: Taking hold of the future - Partner Country status spotlights U.S. manufacturing; Honoring manufacturing excellence: The 2015 Product of the Year Winners
Inside IIoT: How technology, strategy can improve your operation; Dry media or web scrubber?; Six steps to design a PM program
World-class manufacturing: A recipe for success: Finding the right mix for a salad dressing line; 2015 Salary Survey: Manufacturing slump dims enthusiasm
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Warehouse winter comfort: The HTHV solution; Cooling with natural gas; Plastics industry booming
Managing automation upgrades, retrofits; Making technical, business sense; Ensuring network cyber security
Designing generator systems; Using online commissioning tools; Selective coordination best practices

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
click me