Wisconsin Sen. Johnson Blocks Nuclear Cleanup Whistleblowers from Testifying at Hearing about Nuclear Whistleblowers

Thursday, March 13, 2014
Sen. Ron Johnson (AP photo)

Two whistleblowers fired from their jobs at the nation’s biggest environmental cleanup project were prevented this week from testifying before a congressional committee looking into whistleblower terminations. That’s because the committee’s ranking Republican member, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, objected to them serving as witnesses.


The hearing of the Senate’s homeland security subcommittee was called by its chair, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), who wanted to hear from the whistleblowers in light of the numerous problems encountered at the Hanford nuclear cleanup operation in Washington state.


But Johnson, as the committee’s No. 2 member, blocked the invitations to the individuals from going out.


The only explanation offered came from a Johnson aide who told The Wall Street Journal that the witnesses were added to the list only “three business days before the hearing, which would not provide sufficient time to gather information and prepare for their full, thoughtful and informative participation.”


So McCaskill decided to conduct a public “roundtable” discussion with the former workers before the hearing of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Contracting and Financial Oversight Subcommittee was officially held.


The two whistleblowers, Donna Bushe and Walter Tamosaitis, attended the roundtable.


Busche, the head of nuclear safety at Hanford, was fired by subcontractor URS Corp. after she repeatedly warned company executives that the radioactive-waste solution being used was flawed and posed safety problems.


She previously described the safety culture at Hanford, which once produced plutonium for nuclear warheads, as “broken.”


While addressing McCaskill on Tuesday, Bushe said that she and Tamosaitis “had no forum to raise our concerns other than to adjudicate it in court for six or seven years.”


Tamosaitis, who headed research at URS, was fired in October after he questioned whether the company’s decision to mix Hanford’s vast amount of radioactive waste in large tanks might result in a buildup of hydrogen gas, which can explode.


He told the roundtable meeting that his superiors at URS warned him not to bring up safety concerns because they “stood in the way of Bechtel [the prime contractor] winning their award,” from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which oversees Hanford.


He added that the Energy Department was “outmanned, outmanaged and outgunned by contractors.”


“The Waste Treatment Plant and DOE culture are at a tipping point. If there is no change, I feel real bad for the next generation of federal workers,” Tamosaitis said.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Hearing on Hanford Nuclear Cleanup Won't Include Key Workers (by John Emshwiller, Wall Street Journal)

Energy Department, Contractor Faulted for Handling of Whistleblowers (by Charles Clark, Government Executive)

Nuclear Site Safety Official Fired After Her Repeated Warnings of Safety Problems (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

As Hanford Radioactive Leak Continues, Clean-Up Contractor Pays Fraud Penalty (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

44 Congressional Darlings of the Koch Brothers (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


Paul Roden 2 years ago
Any plans for an investigative journalism piece on the impact of radioactive radon from the natural gas in the Marcellus Gas Shale Gas Wells.

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