by Joshua Frank
October 21, 2011
Department of Energy scientists are
alleging catastrophic mismanagement of massive cleanup efforts at
Hanford, the former nuclear weapons outpost.
Joshua Frank is an
environmental journalist and author of "Left Out! How Liberals
Helped Reelect George W. Bush." He is co-editor, with Jeffrey St.
Clair, of "Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the
Heartland." Frank and St. Clair are also the authors of the
forthcoming book, "Green Scare: The New War on Environmentalism." He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research support for this story
was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.
Razor wire surrounds Hanford’s makeshift borders while tattered
signs warn of potential contamination and fines for those daring
enough to trespass.
This vast stretch of eastern Washington,
covering more than 580 square miles of high desert plains, is rural
Washington at its most serene. But it’s inaccessible for good
reason: It is, by all accounts, a nuclear wasteland.
During World War II, the Hanford Reservation was chosen by the
federal government as a location to carry out the covert Manhattan
Project. Later, plutonium produced at Hanford provided fuel for the
"Fat Man" bomb that President Truman ordered to be dropped on
Nagasaki in 1945, killing upward of 80,000 Japanese. In all, nine
nuclear reactors were built at Hanford, the last of which ceased
operation in 1987.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
now estimates that as a result of the nuclear work done at Hanford's
facilities, 43 million cubic yards of radioactive waste were
produced and more than 130 million cubic yards of soil ultimately
During Hanford's lifespan, 475 billion gallons of radioactive
wastewater were released into the ground. Radioactive isotopes have
made their way up the food chain in the Hanford ecosystem at an
alarming rate. Coyote excrement frequently lights up Geigers, as
these scavengers feast on varmints that live beneath the earth's
surface. Deer also have nuclear radiation accumulating in their
bones as a result of consuming local shrubbery and water.
The EPA has deemed Hanford the most
contaminated site in North America - a jarring fact, as the Columbia
River, lifeline for more than 10,000 farmers and dozens of
commercial fisheries in the Pacific Northwest, surges along
Hanford's eastern boundary.
In 1989 Hanford changed from a nuclear-weapons outpost to
cleanup project. Since then, the site has become the largest and
most costly environmental remediation the world has ever seen.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the agency that oversees energy
and the safety of handling nuclear material, supervises the cleanup
efforts, which are currently undertaken by
Bechtel National Inc. -
infamous for its mishandling of Iraq reconstruction efforts - and a
handful of other companies like URS and CH2M HILL.
But despite more than two decades of
cleanup efforts and billions of dollars spent, only a tiny fraction
of Hanford's radioactivity has been safely contained. And the final
costs for the Hanford cleanup process could exceed $120 billion -
higher even than the $100 billion tab for the International Space
Now outrage is brewing at Hanford.
Some prominent employees working
on the project are blowing the whistle over what they believe to be
dismissals of internal scientific assessments, as well as alleged
abuses of managerial power that have been called to the attention of
the Obama Administration, to no
These staffers point to institutional
failures within the DOE and Bechtel as toxic as the nuclear waste
they're tasked to clean up, asserting that the DOE lacks critical
experts on staff to oversee the project and Bechtel rushed through
shoddy design plans in order to pocket some quick cash.
The consequences are not only
jeopardizing safety and putting the project at risk of failure, they
are also likely to cost taxpayers even more money should fatally
flawed construction ultimately require a complete overhaul.
"We need alternatives to the current
plan right now," Dr. Donald Alexander, a high-level DOE physical
chemist working at Hanford, says in distress.
"We need a different design and more
options on the table. This appears to be a hard thing for [DOE
and Bechtel] management to accept. They have spent years of time
and money on a bad design, and it will delay the project even
It's the tail end of summer, and
Alexander is about to head off on a weekend camping trip with
his son in northern Idaho.
While his spirits are high at the
thought of his upcoming retreat, Alexander somberly assesses the
Hanford situation from his vantage point.
"One of the main problems at Hanford
is that DOE is understaffed and overtasked," Alexander explains.
"As such, we cannot conduct in-depth
reviews of each of the individual systems in the facilities.
Therefore there is a high likelihood that several systems will
be found to be inoperable or not perform to expectations."
Alexander knows his nuclear disasters
well, as he led one of the DOE's first scientific delegations to
Mayak nuclear facility in 1990.
Mayak, one of the largest nuclear
production plants in the former Soviet Union, suffered a deadly
accident in 1957 when a tank containing nuclear materials exploded.
The Mayak facilities are comparable to the plutonium production
units built at Hanford, which is considered a "sister facility."
Since they are so close in design and
makeup, Mayak is often seen as an example of what can go wrong with
the production of plutonium and the storage of nuclear waste at
Hanford. Alexander's team negotiated the transfer of data collected
by the Soviets on the health effects of Mayak's radioactive release,
establishing a program that allows Russian and U.S. scientists to
share nuclear cleanup technologies and research.
Currently, federal employees at DOE headquarters in Washington,
D.C., are evaluating whether Bechtel's construction designs at the
site have violated federal law under the Price-Anderson
Amendments Act (PAAA).
amendment to the Atomic Energy Act
of 1954, the PAAA governs liability issues for all non-military
nuclear-facility construction in the United States, which includes
These concerns are triggering other investigations, some of which
have yet to be publicized. Last month, the DOE's Office of Health,
Safety, and Security headed to Hanford to conduct a follow-up
investigation about safety-culture issues. Their findings could be
released as soon as the end of the year.
This visit comes on the heels of a June
investigation by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB),
an independent organization tasked by the executive branch to
oversee public health and safety issues at the DOE's nuclear
In a report addressed to Secretary of
Energy Steven Chu, DNFSB investigators wrote that,
"both DOE and contractor project
management behaviors reinforce a subculture... that deters the
timely reporting, acknowledgement, and ultimate resolution of
technical safety concerns."
After reviewing 30,000 documents and
interviewing 45 staffers, the DNFSB reported that those who went
against the grain and raised concerns about safety issues associated
with construction design,
"were discouraged, if not opposed or
rejected without review."
In fact, according to the DNFSB, one of
these scientists, Dr. Walter Tamosaitis, was actually removed from
his position as a result of speaking up about design problems.
It's not just the DNFSB that is concerned with the safety culture
and management at Hanford. Seattle Weekly has obtained official
documents revealing that the Government Accountability Office (GAO),
the Congressional arm in charge of investigating matters relating to
contractors and other public fund recipients, visited the Hanford
site last month.
In an outline sent to DOE personnel in
advance of their visit, the GAO wrote that it will look into how
contractors are addressing concerns over what they call,
"relatively lax attitudes toward
safety procedures," "inadequacies in identifying and addressing
safety problems," and a "weak safety culture, including
employees' reluctance to report problems."
Their findings likely will be made
public in early 2012.
This wasn't the first time the GAO investigated DOE contracts with
Bechtel. In 2004, the agency released a report critical of the DOE
and Bechtel's clean-up plans, warning of faulty design and
construction of the Tank Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP),
a structure at the heart of the clean-up effort.
The WTP building was not designed to
withstand a strong earthquake, but only after prodding from the
DNFSB did the DOE force Bechtel to go back to the drawing board to
ensure the plant could withstand one. As a result, Bechtel's design
and cost estimates to finish construction skyrocketed from $4.3
billion to more than $10 billion.
And in 2006, GAO released another paper
critical of Bechtel's timeline and cost estimates, which seemed to
change annually, saying that they have "continuing concerns about
the current strategy for going forward on the project."
These flawed plans flew under the radar because the DOE does not
have enough staff to thoroughly review every design piece put forth
by Bechtel, says Alexander. As a result, expensive mistakes like
these could occur again.
The lack of key staff to oversee
Bechtel's work continues to plague the WTP project to this day.
The concerns of the GAO, the DNFSB, and Alexander all point to a
flawed relationship between the DOE and Bechtel, which is both the
design and construction authority on WTP. Once operable, the plant
will turn the millions of gallons of radioactive sediment currently
in the site's waste tanks into glass rods by combining the toxic
gunk with glass-forming material at a blistering 2,100 degrees
Fahrenheit - a process called vitrification.
The rods will then be shipped to an
offsite location to be stored indefinitely.
Bechtel's contract is what is known in contractor parlance as "cost
and schedule performance based." Such contracts, standard in the
defense world, reward contractors like Bechtel for "meeting
milestones" within their proposed budget - in some instances, even
if plans and construction turn out to be critically flawed.
Despite certain mistakes, including
those made during the first three years of building the WTP with
seismic deficiencies, Bechtel boasted in 2004 that they had received
100 percent of the available milestone fees available to the company
through their Hanford contract with DOE.
The DOE is tasked with overseeing the project and signing off on
their recommended procedures, but Alexander argues that the agency
is incapable of proper oversight.
"In the past 45 years, about 400,000
people... have been irradiated [because of the Mayak disaster],"
reflects Alexander. "It's quite possible that a similar accident
could happen here. That's why it is so important that we get the
Hanford cleanup facilities up and running properly, as soon as
There is something ominous about
Hanford, and it's not just the radioactivity.
Wanapum Tribe, which survived here for centuries, feasting on
the once-mighty Columbia River salmon runs, was evicted less than 70
years ago by the federal government so the feds could manufacture
fuel for the A-bomb.
It was certainly a marvelous scientific
achievement when the first plutonium rolled out of Hanford's B
Reactor, which is now just one of the many structures that haunt
this dry landscape. But cleaning up Hanford's aftermath may prove
even more of an accomplishment than it took to create the nuclear
reservation in the first place.
Richland, population 48,000, is the city closest to Hanford. Local
bars on the weekends overflow with Hanford contractors, and the cash
they put down for shots and rounds of cold beer is abundant. The
local watering hole, aptly named the Atomic Ale Brewpub, is
decorated with Hanford artifacts and memorabilia, and serves beer
like Plutonium Porter and Jim's Radioactive Rye.
Richland High School's mascot is the
Bombers. Despite its toxicity, locals have evidently embraced
Richland's nuclear lore.
Richland's economy has long been sustained by the nuclear industry.
Before the current cleanup of Hanford began to bring money into the
community, the development of nuclear technologies ruled the town
for decades. Just outside a more upscale neighborhood is a sprawling
industrial park that serves as the district office for Hanford
contractors and DOE employees.
Without Hanford contracts employing
thousands, Richland certainly would be struggling.
During the Cold War, while Hanford was operating at full capacity,
Richland received the brunt of the site's radioactive pollution. As
plutonium production reached its peak in the mid-1950s through the
mid-1960s, plant operators at Hanford were told to ignore wind
patterns, and released toxic debris into the air throughout the day.
As a result, the cities of Richland, Pasco, Kennewick, and Benton
City all exceeded acceptable levels of radioactive contamination.
During a more devastating period, such as the December 1949 "Green
Run" when raw uranium fuel was being processed, a winter storm
struck the region, causing heavy radioactive deposits to snow down
on Richland and other rural farm communities.
Samples of radioactivity taken during
the Green Run incident were 1,000 times the government's recommended
level, potentially impacting tens of thousands of people.
For years, the government kept documentation of potentially lethal
amounts of radiation in the area classified. Not until 1986, after
public demand mounted, did it release almost 20,000 pages of
historical data showing how much nuclear pollution had plagued the
entire region, affecting literally millions of people. As a result,
a class-action suit was filed in 1991 by 2,400 individuals - "downwinders"
- who claimed they had developed thyroid cancer after being
exposed to radioactive iodine-131 emissions from Hanford.
A jury deadlocked on the issue, which
led to a 2005 mistrial. The plaintiffs appealed in 2006, and in 2008
the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that downwinders are now
allowed to sue the contractors that operated Hanford at the time. In
July, 139 of these downwinders settled for a meager $5,683 per
Yet the majority of people affected by Hanford pollution have not
received compensation of any kind.
Today there are a total of 177 underground storage waste tanks at
Hanford, 149 of which are single-shelled and considered leak-prone
by the EPA. All together, these holding containers house 53 million
gallons of scorching-hot radioactive goop - nearly two-thirds of the
country's high-level, defense-related radioactive waste.
Many of these tanks are already leaking, and have been for some
time; according to the Washington Department of Ecology's estimate,
one million gallons of nuclear waste have already poisoned
groundwater as it continues to seep toward the Columbia River.
However, it is not only leaks that haunt
Hanford's scientists and engineers. The longer the waste stays put,
the more dangerous it becomes.
"In the extreme," says Alexander,
"this could lead to a serious condition that remains
undiscovered until it is too late and another Mayak-scale
Alexander is openly concerned that such
an event could release dangerous amounts of radioactive material
into the atmosphere, contaminating nearby towns and destroying much
of Washington's vital agricultural economy.
And despite Hanford's already seething
radioactivity, the DOE is eyeing the site as a potential waste
repository for additional radioactive garbage produced from medical
procedures, including cancer treatments, as well as waste associated
with oil and gas exploration.
Bechtel has held the rights to build WTP since 2000. The plant, like
Bechtel's Hanford contract, is gargantuan.
The equivalent of
constructing two full-scale nuclear power plants, WTP is to one day
span 65 acres and include four major nuclear facilities:
It's currently the largest single
construction operation taking place anywhere in the United States.
Not only is the proposed WTP immense, it also comes with a
staggering price tag of $12.2 billion, funded solely by the public
trust, part of which comes out of the annual DOE budget.
Before Bechtel, the DOE's WTP contract was with British Nuclear Fuel
But in May 2000, after the company had
spent more than $14 billion - despite an earlier cost estimate of $7
billion - the DOE ended the contract. Bechtel was then awarded the
job through a competitive contract bid, receiving a $4.3 billion
deal when it assured the DOE it could do the work for less than
British Nuclear Fuel's price.
Since then, however, the company's cost estimates, start dates, and
deadlines have changed on numerous occasions. Bechtel has also
swapped project presidents on four separate occasions, most recently
installing Frank Russo as director in January 2010.
Originally, WTP was to begin turning Hanford's radioactive materials
into glass by 2011, with all vitrification to be completed by 2028.
But in 2007 Bechtel pushed up their original cost estimates to $12.2
billion and their deadlines to start the vitrification process to
2019. Even if they meet this goal, the job will not be finished
The timeline and cost projections have
constantly changed because of poor management decisions and a rush
to fast-track completion, say critics, as was the case with the
redesign of WTP based on its seismic preparedness.
"Bechtel, by all accounts and
purposes, has done an absolutely miserable job," says Tom
Carpenter, the professorial executive director of Hanford
Challenge, a Seattle-based nonprofit watchdog group that keeps a
close eye on all things Hanford.
"They [the DOE] simply don't have
enough [personnel] to deal with all the technical challenges, so
Bechtel is getting away with whatever they want out there."
In fact, Bechtel has hundreds of
engineers and scientists on the project, compared to less than a
dozen for the DOE at Hanford.
"There are only a few [technical
staff] in the Engineering Division," Alexander says. "And there
are about seven of us in the Nuclear Safety Division where I
Furthermore, an internal DOE document
published in August by the Construction Project Review (CPR) states
that the current $12.2 billion estimate, which increased in 2007
after the DOE revised their WTP goals, is likely to climb yet again.
"Funding uncertainty is the major
project risk," the document notes.
These increases, says Carpenter, are
directly related to the DOE's inability to manage Bechtel.
Rick McNulty, who has worked at Hanford for 17 years and currently
holds the position of Organizational Property Management Officer,
adds that running out of money is but one of many risks.
4, McNulty - also a lawyer and president of Local 788 of the
American Federation of Government Employees, largely made up of
Hanford scientists and engineers - requested a dual stop-work order
to Bechtel and the DOE to force them to halt immediately the welding
of tops on so-called "non-Newtonian vessels" at WTP.
These five large containers hold "pulse
jet mixers" designed to mix radioactive waste within the vessels
when the plant becomes operable. Alexander explains that if these
materials cannot stay consistently mixed, WTP will not be able to
turn the radioactive waste into glass rods.
McNulty is concerned that Bechtel and DOE management are ignoring
sound science, moving forward with a project that has failed
small-scale testing on numerous occasions. These tests have shown
that solids end up accumulating into small piles, causing the mixers
to malfunction. The substances that build up during the mixing
process, these studies note, are far more dense and cohesive than
Consequently, the mixers will likely
fail. If these small-scale studies are correct, and the pulse jet
mixers start mixing waste, this could cause a radioactive accident.
Perhaps even more frightening, as Alexander points out, is that
these same tests show that erosion will likely occur in the
so-called "black cells" - the areas around the vessels that house
the pulse jet mixers.
These areas will become off-limits to
maintenance crews once the vessels begin to operate.
"[A] significant risk [is] that the
vessel bottoms could be eroded through," says Alexander.
"If the [pulse jet mixers] erode the
vessel floor, then the [radioactive] contents of the vessel will
drain into the black cell that they are entombed in. Because
there is no access for men or equipment into black cells, there
is no way of providing maintenance within them. The black cell
itself would likely have to be abandoned."
Like Alexander, McNulty is worried that
there will be no turning back once the vessels become operable
because the radioactivity within them will be too high for workers
to enter the black cells - meaning that all mechanisms' interiors,
from the vessels to the piping, will have to last the lifetime of
Any malfunction of any part would end
the vessel operation altogether, creating a potentially deadly
"We're talking about dealing with
nuclear waste here, so we have to make sure everything is
functioning properly," adds McNulty. "This whole thing will be
shot if these well heads are sealed with a faulty design inside.
We need this thing to work; it's not worth rushing."
McNulty's complaint and subsequent
request to halt construction came as a result of the aforementioned
small-scale studies conducted by Alexander.
In an internal "differing opinion"
report circulated among DOE management and contractor staff, which
challenged Bechtel's notion that the pulse jet mixers would work,
Alexander wrote in June 2011:
"The Contractor Reports [which are
submitted to DOE for review] are neither conservative nor do
they provide a realistic portrayal of vessel physics and
therefore there is no justification for continued design,
procurement, and installation.
Contractor Decision Papers are
not technically sound and therefore do not Support a Decision to
Weld Heads... The Design is not Licensable and management should
Alexander's tests of the pulse jet mixer
design plans showed that the model was faulty, yet his pleas to stop
construction have gone unheeded by his DOE Project Director, Dale
In early August, the DOE announced that
it was moving forward with welding the tops on the vessels, much to
"We took Dr. Alexander's report into
consideration and determined there was no imminent risk to
safety if the heads were welded on [the non-Newtonian vessels],"
says DOE spokesperson Carrie Meyer.
"In the end we looked at the
bottom line of the project, and it was a business decision to
In an internal e-mail obtained by
Seattle Weekly, dated August 4, Alexander addressed his concerns
directly to the DOE's Chief of Nuclear Safety, Richard Lagdon,
"Unfortunately the Decision to Weld
the Non-Newtonian Vessels was made a day too soon.
Based on the
testing yesterday evening and the recent testing results it is
clear that the Decision to Weld will require rework and place
unacceptable liability upon the government... I was the only
scientist present to observe these tests.
I guess the project doesn't really
care about the test results. Testing over the last two weeks
demonstrates that we are now at the point where a very expensive
contingency option will have to be exercised.
This involves either the
implementation of design and fabrication of a new vessel or
significant modification of the existing vessel. Either option
will be extremely costly... This could have been avoided if the
DOE technical staff recommendations and those of the DNFSB
(among numerous others) had been fairly considered."
On September 1, Knutson and Bechtel WTP
Project Director Russo released a joint statement asserting they
would sidestep further small-scale testing and instead conduct
large-scale analysis in the future, once the units are sealed with
the pulse jet mixers inside.
"Testing is performed to validate
the safety and quality of design and construction," Russo said.
"We are confident, based on the results of our small-scale
testing, that the mixing design of the vessels meets the safety
"It's a classic case of management
overriding technical staff," says McNulty, who speaks from years
of experience at Hanford. "The DOE is in a state of absolute
denial about this whole thing. They need to rein [Russo] in.
They can't allow him to continue to misrepresent all the
internal studies that show [the pulse jet mixers] are simply not
going to work."
Last fall, the pulse jet mixers were
welded inside the non-Newtonian vessels, but the tops were not
Despite opposition from Alexander and
other scientists, this portion of the project was pushed forward by
Bechtel and DOE management.
"I raised issues within DOE, but
Bechtel was convinced these pulse jet mixers would work,"
Alexander says. "The result was that Bechtel was able to get DOE
management to sign off on welding the mixers within the
Once the weld heads encapsulate what
studies show to be defective pulse jet mixers, years of research and
development will be wasted and billions more will have to be spent
to fix what could have been prevented, contends McNulty.
Russo would not submit to an interview with Seattle Weekly. Instead,
Bechtel spokesperson Suzanne Heaston sent the following statement
"Assuming the vessel mixing systems
work as designed, welding the heads on now will save taxpayers
significant cost and avoid delays in treatment of the waste in
the tank farm... If further testing associated with the
mitigation actions determines that they will not perform
adequately and operational controls are not adequate, design
changes could be required.
The timing of the welding of the
heads on the vessels is a management decision to proceed... The
potential costs of potential rework are less than the known
costs of delay."
In other words, even though no
small-scale tests have ever shown that the pulse jet mixers will
work properly, Bechtel, with the DOE's blessing, will still move
forward with welding the heads to the tops of the vessels.
Such illogic mystifies Tamosaitis, a systems engineer who has been
employed for more than 40 years by Bechtel subcontractor URS.
"So Bechtel charges ahead, welds the
heads on [the non-Newtonian vessels], and then waits for the
answers that will tell how the tanks need to be changed," he
says in response to Bechtel's statement.
"What then? Cut the heads off the
tanks? Start over building new tanks? Wow. That sounds like a
In an additional e-mail sent August 2,
Alexander writes of how Bechtel management disregarded his early
report that their design for the pulse jet mixers was flawed:
"In the spring I raised a series of
concerns with respect to the performance of the non-Newtonian
Because I raised the issue, Frank Russo directed me to
write my issues in a paper over the Easter weekend and deliver
the paper on Monday April 5, 2010... As a consequence the
[Bechtel] manager labeled my issues as the 'non- Newtonian
Since when are DOE staff supposed to
take direction from Contractor management?... Mr. Russo also
directed Dr. Walter Tamosaitis to gather as many top flight PhDs
as possible together to discredit my paper.
I requested that my paper receive
appropriate peer review but that request was denied. Walt had
trouble even assembling a team. Walt knew that my issues were
technically correct and he never submitted a counter paper."
Shortly after he refused to counter
Alexander's internal paper warning about the problems with the pulse
jet mixer design, Tamosaitis blew his own whistle, exposing what he
saw as safety failures at WTP and citing concerns that the pulse jet
mixer design issues would prohibit the plant from operating
As a result, Tamosaitis says he was
removed from the project; Bechtel and URS both deny that they
removed Tamosaitis because he raised safety concerns.
"The drive to stay on schedule is
putting the whole [WTP] project at risk," Tamosaitis contends.
"'Not on my watch' is a standard mantra among [DOE and Contract]
management who like to intimidate naysayers like me. These guys
would rather deal with major issues down the road than fix them
up front... Cost and schedule performance trump sound science
time and again."
On March 31, 2010, Tamosaitis e-mailed
Bechtel managers Michael K. Robinson and Russo about concerns about
pulse jet mixer failures raised by the DOE's Alexander, to which
"Please keep this under control. The
science is over."
In an internal e-mail string dated April
14, 2010, Robinson writes to Russo that he will "just have to keep [Tamosaitis]
"As soon as Russo came on board, the
chain of command was altered," Tamosaitis says.
"Before Russo, I had to report
directly to Bill Gay, a URS employee, but Russo removed Gay from
the command chain and [made me communicate] directly to Mike
Robinson [of Bechtel]. I think Russo believed it was easier to
drive ahead with his cost and schedule push if he didn't have
two URS managers directly under him."
In an e-mail dated March 31, 2010, Russo
updated President Obama appointee Inés Triay on the
Triay, who did not return calls seeking
comment, served as Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management
and oversaw the DOE's Hanford work until July, at which time she
"It was like herding cats," Russo
wrote Triay about a meeting he'd had with senior contract
scientists and engineers regarding his quest to stay on
"Scientists... were in lock step
harmony when we told them the science is ending. They all hated
it... I will send anyone on my team home if they demonstrate an
unwillingness or inability to fulfill my direction."
"Walt is killing us," Russo later e-mailed Bill Gay of URS on
July 1, 2010, who though removed from the chain of command still
had to sign off on Tamosaitis' removal.
"Get him in your corporate office today."
"He will be gone tomorrow," Gay replied.
"This action [Tamosaitis' removal from the Hanford project] was
initiated by Dale Knutson probably not knowing the sensitivity,"
Gay e-mailed to another employee in response to the decision to
get rid of Tamosaitis.
Knutson would not respond to interview
requests from Seattle Weekly.
However, in a sworn statement sent to
the Department of Labor, Knutson denied that he was in any way
involved in the decision to demote Tamosaitis.
While no longer working on Hanford and WTP, Tamosaitis is still
employed by URS, but is confined to a windowless basement office in
Richland, where he says no management has spoken to him in over a
year. His daily work routine isn't that of a normal URS scientist,
and he is not even sure what official title he presently has. URS
has recently shipped him around the country to work on various
company projects as a sort of in-house consultant.
Tamosaitis is currently suing Bechtel in Washington state, as well
as URS and the DOE at the federal level, over his ousting at
"It is my opinion that [Dale]
Knutson and Frank Russo are in lockstep," he asserts.
"Due to the constant managerial
turnover [on the WTP project], these guys won't likely be there
in a few years, so they'd rather have these problems happen on
someone else's clock, even though it is always more expensive to
fix something later then to do it right the first time."
Three sources working on the DOE's and
Bechtel's Hanford vitrification project tell Seattle Weekly that
"the WTP project is in total jeopardy" because of their employers'
refusal to address technical and safety concerns raised by staffers
like Tamosaitis and Alexander.
These sources, who asked to remain
anonymous for fear of retribution by their employers, believe
congressional hearings in front of the House Energy and Commerce
Committee about the issue are imminent. They also contend that the
project could be temporarily shut down any day due to safety
If it comes to rebuilding these hundred-million-dollar vessels, the
costs will skyrocket. As a result, Hanford Challenge's Carpenter and
others note, the entire project could fall apart.
That means taxpayers will again have to
foot the bill for WTP's redesign and construction, postponing its
"Clearly, the management system or
'safety culture' is broken," writes Alexander in an August 2
e-mail to McNulty.
"I have been under tremendous stress
for more than a year. It seems to me that this is beyond a
purely technical issue and is a whistleblower issue."