June 15, 2011 in City

Hanford probe finds safety laxity

Associated Press
 

RICHLAND – A lax safety culture that deters timely reporting and resolution of technical concerns is endangering the success of a $12.2 billion plant being built at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, according to a report by the national Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

The board’s investigation found that the U.S. Department of Energy, which manages cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and contractor Bechtel National reinforced the lax safety culture, the Tri-City Herald reported Tuesday.

Bechtel National is building the plant to convert 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste left from decades of plutonium production into glasslike logs for permanent disposal underground.

Accusations against the Energy Department and Bechtel included burying technical reports that raised safety issues and creating an atmosphere that discouraged workers from raising technical issues that could affect the plant’s safe operation.

The investigation was expanded after the board held a public hearing in Kennewick in October and additional concerns were raised, including an allegation that the Energy Department had tampered with witnesses at the hearing.

The report called for Energy Secretary Steven Chu to improve safety issues at the plant.

The board began investigating after Walter Tamosaitis, former engineering manager for the project, said he lost his job because he raised issues he believed could affect the plant’s safe operation.

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