Hanford Challenge Press Releases
Groups: “Resist Shortcuts to nuclear waste cleanup”
June 5, 2019
Contacts: Tom Carpenter, firstname.lastname@example.org (206-419-5829); Mark Drajem, email@example.com (202-289-2436); or Elizabeth Heyd at firstname.lastname@example.org (202-289-2424).
WASHINGTON D.C.: The Department of Energy issued new rules giving itself the authority to abandon storage tanks with more than 100 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste at sites in South Carolina, Idaho and the state of Washington.
Under the law, this most toxic waste must be disposed of in deep, geologic formations so it won’t endanger public health; the Trump administration is trying to avoid that important requirement.
The new rules allow DOE to walk away from long-lived high-level nuclear waste at the Hanford nuclear site, which contains two-thirds of the nation’s inventory of such waste. Under the new rules, DOE is not required to remove or treat the waste if it so chooses. The rule paves the way for DOE to abandon untreated high-level waste in over 170 underground nuclear waste tanks, as it plans to do when it issued a proposal in 2018 to abandon 70,000 gallons of waste from the C Farms at Hanford.
On May 28, 2019, Washington State’s Ecology Director warned the DOE that failing to meet cleanup deadlines would result in court actions.
Organizations around the nuclear complex issued strong statement opposing the imposition of the new rules.
The following is a comment from Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge:
"The Hanford nuclear site is riddled with earthquake faults, surrounded by active volcanoes, and has a major river system flowing through it and is not suitable for the storage of wastes that are toxic for millennia. DOE needs to comply with, not defy the law in order to protect current and future generations."
“We will not tolerate shortcuts to the cleanup in order to save money, while sacrificing health and safety.”
The following is a statement from Geoff Fettus, a senior attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):
“The Trump administration is moving to fundamentally alter more than 50 years of national consensus on how the most toxic and radioactive waste in the world is managed and ultimately disposed of. No matter what they call it, this waste needs a permanent, well-protected disposal option to guard it for generations to come.
“Pretending this waste is not dangerous is irresponsible and outrageous.”
The following is a comment from Beatrice Brailsford, the nuclear program director at the Snake River Alliance in Idaho:
“Protecting people and the environment from nuclear hazards is a key Department of Energy responsibility. DOE: Do your job!”
The following is a comment from Tom Clements, director of Savannah River Site Watch:
“The massive containers of glassified high-level nuclear waste at Savannah River Site must be disposed of as required by law -- in a properly licensed geologic disposal site and not via shallow burial in low-level nuclear waste facilities in Utah or Texas.
“The Energy Department’s questionable rewriting of the regulations is simply a cost-cutting measure designed to get thousands of high-level waste containers dumped off site; they must continue to be safely stored at Savannah River until a geologic repository is available.”
For pdf of press release, click here.
Read related news articles here.
WASHINGTON STATE THREATENS LEGAL ACTION AGAINST ENERGY DEPARTMENT FOR ANTICIPATED BREACH OF CONSENT DECREE
Letter from State Asserts DOE is Unilaterally Canceling the Pre-Treatment Facility at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant
June 4, 2019
Seattle, WA: A Washington State official is warning the federal government that the state will take the US Department of Energy (“DOE”) back to federal court for failure to meet court-mandated cleanup deadlines and cautioning DOE for taking “unilateral actions” contrary to enforceable commitments at the Hanford nuclear site.
A 6-page letter, dated May 29, 2019, released by Hanford Challenge today spells out Washington State’s Ecology Director, Maia Bellon, warnings to Anne White, Assistant Manager, Office of Environmental Management, US Department of Energy.
Bellon noted that “despite having two court orders that set forth the path forward for tank waste retrieval and treatment, USDOE once again already has, or is poised to take, unilateral actions to divert resources away from the path forward dictated by the Amended Consent Decree and TPA.”
The letter recounts failed negotiation attempts with the DOE over past missed Hanford cleanup deadlines, ending with the State of Washington taking the DOE to federal court. In 2016, a US District Court judge mandated new deadlines for the cleanup mission at Hanford. Now, three years later, Bellon recounts numerous concerns with DOE’s ability to meet several of those key deadlines, including:
Hanford’s Low Activity Waste plant opening in 2023, as required by the court;
all but abandoning work on Hanford’s High Level Waste and Pre-Treatment facilities: “it appears DOE unilaterally decided to place the HLW and PT facilities in an asset preservation and maintenance state while DFLAW is commissioned. . . . DOE is pursuing only limited design work for the HLW Facility at this time.”;
DOE’s inability to meet upcoming tank retrieval milestones; and
DOE’s refusal to begin good-faith negotiations for the design and construction of new tanks.
IS THE PRE-TREATMENT FACILITY AT HANFORD’S WASTE TREATMENT PLANT DEAD?
One of the most interesting disclosures in Bellon’s letter is a reference to recent DOE communications to the State of Washington that seems to indicate that the DOE is preparing to totally abandon the Pre-Treatment Facility at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (WTP). The letter states:
“In October 2018, given that the PT Facility is so far over budget and so far behind schedule US DOE came to the Nuclear Waste Program (NWP) to discuss the HLW treatment mission at Hanford. Technical staff from the USDOE-Office of River Protection (ORP) and NWP started weekly "HLW optimization" meetings to discuss how USDOE could begin vitrifying HLW by the current Consent Decree deadline, given the significant challenges with the PT Facility. Around the same time, USDOE initiated an internal Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) process under DOE Order 413.3B to analyze alternatives to completing construction of the PT Facility.” (emphasis added)
While DOE has not formally canceled the Pre-Treatment facility, no budget has been allocated nor a timetable advanced that evidences DOE’s intent to complete the facility. The PT facility is key to the operation of the WTP, which is set to vitrify high-level tank waste in the future.
To address all this, the State proposed “entering into a period of finite negotiations that will last no later than 6-9 months and put us on a holistic path forward that addresses all of Hanford's tank waste through to completion of treatment.” These negotiations should include making progress on agreement to design and permit new tank storage capacity.
The State also made other demands:
The [Low Activity Waste] treatment facility must be completed and operational on the current timeframes set out in the Consent Decree.
High-level waste treatment must commence on a time frame as close to current Consent Decree deadlines as possible.
Single Shell Tank retrievals must continue without any significant breaks.
All tanks must undergo legally-compliant closure.
All tank waste disposed of at the Hanford Site must be treated to the previously-agreed upon "as good as glass" standard.
Interim measures must be established as needed to ensure safe storage/management of tank waste pending completion of retrievals and treatment.”
Finally, the letter ends with a warning from the State of Washington to the DOE:
“If USDOE chooses not to accept both parts of the State's proposal, or if we get to the end of the negotiation period without a mutually acceptable path for Hanford's tank waste cleanup mission, we reserve our right to notify the Court of USDOE's anticipated breaches of Amended Consent Decree milestones. We also reserve our right to take enforcement actions for missed TPA milestones, including imposing all milestones Ecology initially proposed pursuant to the current System Plan negotiations.” (emphasis added)
Hanford Challenge has been warning that the federal government is planning to take shortcuts and walk away from the tank waste cleanup at Hanford since last year. Tom Carpenter, Executive Director, stated, “DOE clearly wants out of the cleanup, and is proposing to relabel high-level waste at Hanford as low-level waste and pour concrete in tanks in order to do so.” Carpenter went on, “Clearly, this letter sets the table for litigation. Since DOE has already had these deadlines imposed upon it by a federal judge, I don’t expect it will be pretty for the DOE. I applaud Washington State for standing its ground and insisting that the federal government honor its legally-binding commitments.”
For pdf of press release, click here.
For letter from Ecology, click here.
Hanford Challenge Joins with Other National and Regional Non-profits to Submit Comments Calling on DOE to Withdraw Proposal to Re-label and Abandon High-Level Radioactive Waste
The practical, real-world harm of DOE’s proposal would allow the Trump Administration DOE—and future administrations—to abandon extraordinary amounts of the world’s most toxic waste at nuclear weapons cleanup sites across the country.
January 8, 2019
Today Hanford Challenge joined with six other national and regional non-profit organizations to submit formal comments opposing a Department of Energy proposal to relabel and abandon high-level nuclear waste in shallow land burial at sites like Hanford.
Hanford Challenge (WA), the Natural Resources Defense Council (DC), Columbia Riverkeeper (OR), Southwest Research & Information Center (NM), Snake River Alliance (ID), Savannah River Site Watch (SC), Institute for Policy Studies (DC), and Nuclear Information & Resource Service (DC) jointly submitted comments on the Department of Energy’s Request for Public Comment on the U.S. Department of Energy Interpretation of High-Level Radioactive Waste. 83 Fed. Reg. 50909, October 10, 2018.
The formal comments warn that DOE’s proposal to “reinterpret” the Nuclear Waste Policy Act would “be contrary to law and create a host of technically unsound, indefensible, and dangerous situations in multiple locations around the country. Bluntly, finalizing this internal order would flatly violate the express directions of Congress found in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (“NWPA”).”
Hanford currently has 56 million gallons of high-level waste in tanks, and more that has leaked under the tanks and has been dumped in the ground. It is important that this waste is removed, treated, and sent somewhere deep underground to isolate it from humans and the environment for the many hundreds of thousands of years it takes for some of its radioactive constituents to decay. It should not be left at sites like Hanford.
“After almost 30 years of a program to clean up dangerous defense waste at the Hanford nuclear site in southeastern Washington, the Department of Energy now wants to change the rules to make the job easier and save money. If approved, the proposal poses new dangers to the health and safety of people and the environment—not just in southeastern Washington, but at nuclear sites around the country,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge.
The comments submitted today warn that “DOE proposes to fundamentally alter more than 50 years of national consensus on how the most toxic, radioactive, and dangerous waste in the world is managed and ultimately disposed in geologic repositories. The proposal, if implemented, would seriously endanger millions of Americans and countless future generations. Because HLW contains highly radioactive fission products and radionuclides that pose long-term dangers to human health and the environment, Congress has enacted laws defining HLW and defined DOE responsibilities to safely manage the waste at its sites and to dispose of that waste in geologic repositories.”
The organizations called upon DOE to withdraw this HLW Reinterpretation Proposal and commence working with the immediately affected States, Tribes, Congress, and interested members of the public on reforms to nuclear waste law. The groups also urged that the DOE put the cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex on a course that is both scientifically defensible and publicly accepted.
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson also submitted comments to the DOE opposing DOE’s attempt to shortcut the cleanup, as did the State of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
For pdf of press release, click here.
For State of Oregon comments, click here.
For Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation comments, click here.
THOUSANDS URGE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO DROP PROPOSAL TO RECLASSIFY HIGH-LEVEL NUCLEAR WASTE AT HANFORD
November 7, 2018
Portland, OR: More than 2,000 people are urging the Trump administration to withdraw a controversial proposal to reclassify 70,000 gallons of high-level nuclear waste in a cluster of tanks near the Columbia River. DOE’s proposal seeks to reclassify the pollution as low-level waste so that DOE can fill the tanks with grout and leave the waste at Hanford indefinitely.
"The future of the Hanford cleanup is at stake if Department of Energy proceeds with leaving high-level nuclear waste in shallow land burial at Hanford. These long-lived radioactive products will far outlive their containers and migrate into the river and our food, air and water resources. The Trump Administration hopes to save billions of dollars at Hanford by simply not conducting the cleanup," said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge.
Over 2,000 comments and petitions gathered by a coalition of public interest groups including Hanford Challenge, Natural Resources Defense Council, Columbia Riverkeeper, Heart of America Northwest, and others highlight major flaws in a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposal to reclassify and abandon waste in tanks and soils in Hanford’s C Farm—an area contaminated with nuclear waste containing plutonium, americium, technetium and other long-lived pollution.
"Changing the name of High Level Nuclear Waste does not change how contamination will spread from Hanford's High Level Nuclear Waste tank farms, nor does changing the name of the waste prevent the cancer that future generations will suffer," said Washington state Representative Gerry Pollet, Executive Director of Hanford Cleanup watchdog Heart of America Northwest.
“The federal government’s proposal sets the stage to leave long-lived, dangerous contamination close to the Columbia River at Hanford,” stated Dan Serres, Conservation Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “The Trump administration’s proposal makes Hanford a high-level waste dump in all but name.”
State and tribal governments are also raising questions about DOE’s proposal. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation challenged a previous attempt by the federal government to reclassify waste and sent a letter calling on the federal government to clean up high-level waste at Hanford. In October, the Oregon Department of Energy asked the federal government to provide more information about the risks associated with waste in soils, pipes and tanks in Hanford’s C Farm. In November, the State of Washington also raised serious concerns about DOE being “unable to show compliance” with DOE’s own criteria for reclassifying waste. Similarly, the Hanford Advisory Board urged U.S. DOE to rethink its approach, which ignores pollution already in the soils near the tanks.
Hanford is the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere. From World War II though the 1980s, the U.S. government used the site for nuclear weapons plutonium production. The Columbia River’s Hanford Reach is also home to the best mainstem Chinook salmon spawning habitat in the entire Columbia River system. The Hanford area has great traditional and religious significance to Columbia Plateau tribes and is home to multiple traditional cultural properties, traditional use areas, as well as significant ceremonial sites.
U.S. DOE plans to make a final decision on the waste reclassification in Fall 2019.
More information, including the Draft WIR Evaluation and supporting documents
Hanford Challenge's Press Release
Hanford Challenge's Fact Sheet
Congressional letter requesting additional public meetings from Sen. Murray, Sen. Cantwell and Rep. Smith
Find DOE's Public meeting presentations here
Oregon DOE submitted comments on the USDOE's proposal to reclassify radioactive waste at Hanford
For pdf of press release, click here.
Hanford Challenge/UA Local 598 Declare Victory for Hanford Workers in Settlement of Toxic Vapor Litigation
September 19, 2018
Seattle, WA: Hanford Challenge, UA Local 598, and the WA State Office of the Attorney General today announced a settlement in a hotly-contested case involving the safety of workers at the Hanford nuclear site in southeastern Washington State.
United Association of Steamfitters and Plumbers (UA) Local 598 and Hanford Challenge were co-plaintiffs with Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (Complainants) against the US Department of Energy (DOE) and Hanford contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) (Defendants) in an action brought in federal court in September 2015.
“Under this Agreement, the cycle of exposure and illness due to unprotected chemical vapor exposures is finally being addressed and, hopefully, resolved. The parties have agreed to an enforceable settlement that requires specific actions to solve the vapor exposure issue at Hanford throughout the rest of the cleanup,” said Executive Director Tom Carpenter, of Hanford Challenge.
“This is a major victory for the brave men and women working to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation,” WA Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “This is an historic outcome, but let’s be honest -- it should not have required a lawsuit to get the federal government to do the right thing.”
UA Local 598’s Business Manager Randall Walli stated, “This represents Local 598’s values and commitment to its members and all working families that ensure the success of our National mission. While the future of Hanford will continue to demand our full diligence, with all its complexities and challenges, this settlement represents a positive step in the right direction. Ensuring adequate protection for the workforce and a commitment to the development and implementation of new technologies that will ultimately lead to a safe and more productive future. Local 598 will continue to stand with all the men and women of Hanford, our Nuclear Veterans and their families.”
Complainants in the case brought forward evidence that Hanford workers were not being protected from exposure to toxic chemical vapors coming from underground high-level nuclear waste tanks, and that workers suffered serious illnesses and injuries as a result. A federal judge in Spokane stated in a November 2016 ruling that “vapor exposures have occurred” and “employees have experienced serious vapor-related illnesses.” Importantly, the judge also found that “vapors emitted from Hanford tank waste fall within RCRA,” and are therefore subject to regulation under the hazardous waste law.
The settlement announced today resolves the litigation, which sought an order from a federal court to provide necessary respiratory protection and take other such measures necessary to abate an imminent endangerment to human health and safety.
"By establishing that tanks vapors are hazardous wastes, this case changed the regulatory landscape at Hanford. This settlement provides immediate protection from toxic tank vapors for Hanford workers as well as a pathway for long term controls to prevent untreated vapor releases. This is critical for protecting workers and the environment," said Meredith Crafton, attorney for Hanford Challenge and Local 598 from the law firm of Smith & Lowney, PLLC.
The Agreement provides for more monitoring, more transparency, a commitment to capture and treat toxic chemical vapors, enhanced worker protections, and litigation costs. The terms of the Agreement are enforceable in federal court.
The legal team of Smith & Lowney in Seattle, Terrell Marshall Law Group, also from Seattle, and the non-profit law firm Public Justice in DC, provided the representation for Hanford Challenge and UA Local 598. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson also brought a complaint, and entered into a joint prosecution agreement with Hanford Challenge and the union.
“The settlement announced today shows the power of workers banding together and the effectiveness and importance of partnerships between unions, advocates and tenacious public servants like Washington’s Attorney General,” said Jim Hecker, Director of the Environmental Enforcement Project at Public Justice. “It also underscores the importance of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as a powerful tool that helps workers and communities stand up for themselves. When toxic chemicals are released, it is usually workers who are in closest proximity to the poisons, and therefore get the highest exposures. Today’s announcement means that those most susceptible to harm will finally receive the protection they deserve.”
Key terms of the Agreement include --
More Monitoring –
DOE and the tank farm contractor will complete design for the optimal components and configuration of Vapor Monitoring and Detection System for stack monitoring in the A and AX Farms by December 31, 2018 and
installation of Public Address system in the tank farms in order to provide warnings to workers about hazardous conditions.
More Transparency –
Development of a Data Access and Visualization (“DAV”) platform for sharing monitoring and sampling data on a website;
Within various time frames, the tank farm contractor will post on a publicly available website the following –
a monthly list of Problem Evaluation Requests regarding AOP-15 events that occur in the future;
the specific nature of the tank farm waste worker medical surveillance program (routine occupational tests and their purpose) to be updated annually if there are changes to the program;
a thorough explanation of the current policy concerning return to work following a reported exposure;
information regarding workers potential ability to participate in the DOE Former Worker Medical Screening Program;
the Health Process Plan entitled “PNNL-25791, Hanford Tank Farm Exposure and Risk Assessment Plan;” and
within two weeks after completion of the AOP-15 Event Investigation Report:
procedures for determining appropriate personal protective equipment;
procedures for alternative respiratory protection assessments;
procedures for assessing worker hazards (including vapor risks);
and tank vapor information sheets (“TVISs”) for the Chemicals of Potential Concern in the tank farms.
Upon request from a tank farm worker, DOE and WRPS will timely provide applicable Tank Vapor Information System (TVIS) data and the worker’s personal exposure data, if any, regarding a tank farm-related vapor event.
Capturing and Treating Vapors –
Testing of an engineered system designed to capture and thermally treat tank vapors in a manner that destroys or captures harmful chemicals and metals;
Timetable for testing milestones, which, if successful, results in the installation of the system on certain Hanford tanks and/or tank farms; and
Agreement by DOE and the tank contractor to accept and respond to technical input from plaintiffs’ expert.
Worker Protections Enhanced –
Currently, the Hanford contractor has an agreement with the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council that requires tank farm workers to use:
supplied air in single-shell tank farms at all times.
supplied air during waste disturbing activities in double-shell tanks.
approved cartridge respirators in routine double-shell tank operations.
As part of the settlement, Hanford agrees to maintain this Agreement to protect tank farm worker health and safety, no matter who the contractor turns out to be in the future.
The tank farm contractor will accept and consider input from plaintiffs’ technical expert on the proposed use of cartridge respirators.
Enhanced pre-job safety reviews that consider the risk of vapor exposures as a factor.
Installation of an active exhaust ventilation system in A Farm, after which the entire A Farm complex can be actively ventilated, by December 31, 2019.
Hanford occupational medical services provider will comprehensively review medical data that are available for tank farm workers and provide expert advice on collection, analysis, and interpretation of these data and their potential to help assess any relationship between medical findings, reported health effects, and/or exposures.
Within 30 days DOE will direct the Hanford occupational medical services provider to inform workers of their rights to seek medical diagnoses from a qualified medical provider after workers report to the Hanford occupational medical services provider for symptoms possibly related to vapor exposure.
After the Hanford occupational medical services provider informs DOE of the anticipated completion date for the Medical Data Study, DOE will inform Plaintiffs of that date.
Within 30 days DOE will direct the Hanford occupational medical services provider that, upon request from a tank farm worker, the provider will timely provide its medical data related to the worker.
Litigation Costs -
DOE will pay the amount of $416,250.00 to counsel for Hanford Challenge/Local 598 and will pay to the State of Washington Office of the Attorney General the amount of $508,750.00.
The Attorney General has agreed to hire experts (using DOE funds) to continue monitoring and advisory functions as specified in the Agreement.
Enforceable Agreement -
The agreement is a settlement contract. The federal case will remain open, but be placed on “administrative stay.” As outlined in the agreement, the settlement is enforceable in court should DOE or the tank farm contractor fail to meet a deadline or fail to perform on an agreed-upon term. There are requirements on notice and mediation prior to going back to court.
The contract survives the current tank farm contractor, WRPS, insofar as a provision in the contract requires DOE to put these obligations on any new contractor.
For pdf of press release, click here.
For Settlement Agreement, click here.
For more on vapor case and history, click here.
September 04, 2018
Seattle, WA: Hanford Challenge released a new scientific report analyzing radiation contamination found in Hanford worker vehicles and on-site building filters based on information from internal reports of contamination identified by a Hanford contractor.
The report was prepared by Marco Kaltofen, Ph.D., of Boston Chemical Data Corporation, and focused on findings related to the spread of contamination from Hanford’s Plutonium Finishing Plant (PFP) following releases to the air in 2017.
Dr. Kaltofen’s report confirms the presence of americium, uranium, and thorium in multiple dust samples from personal vehicles driven out of the radiation protection zones at the PFP. Radioactive microparticles containing thorium and/or uranium were found in the vehicle samples, including metallic radioactive microparticles that are fairly unique to the Hanford site.
Alpha counting revealed one bulk vehicle dust & grime sample that had a 7-fold increase over the normal and expected alpha emission rate (a greater than two standard deviation difference). “This result means that there is a 95% chance or better that the vehicle user or mechanic would
be exposed to radiotoxic alpha particles while working on this contaminated vehicle. For at least three of the thirty tested personal vehicles, there remains residual alpha-radiation contamination despite being cleaned and released for use by the Dept. of Energy," said Dr. Kaltofen.
Dr. Kaltofen also reported that a March 2018 Hanford contractor report found “biologically significant plutonium particles onsite” at Hanford, including an example particle with a calculated dose equivalent to 10 chest-X-Rays. Dr. Kaltofen noted that by comparison, the maximum allowable offsite radiation dose limit for all emissions from a federal facility is 10 mRem per year, equivalent to just one chest X-Ray. “This means that a single PFP particle can exert nearly 10 times the EPA allowable standard for an offsite emission (or equal to the dose from 10 X-rays),” Dr. Kaltofen wrote.
“These findings point to an urgent need for a deeper, broader look by an independent entity at the threats that Hanford’s past and present contamination might pose to surrounding communities,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge.
For pdf of press release, click here.
For full report on the findings, click here.
For cover letter, click here.
August 27, 2018
Watchdog groups from across the nuclear weapons complex are pushing back against a new Department of Energy order that severely constrains the oversight capacity of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board [DNFSB] at an August 28 hearing in Washington, DC. Kathy Crandall Robinson will speak at the hearing.
Members of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a national network of organizations that addresses nuclear weapons production and waste cleanup issues, hail the work of the DNFSB as a critical guard against DOE and National Nuclear Security Administration efforts to cut corners on safety.
“The Safety Board works outside of the media spotlight,” said Tom Clements, Director of Savannah River Site Watch in Columbia, South Carolina. “Its value to the public is immeasurable. DNFSB frequently provides information about SRS operations which DOE fails to communicate. The role of the Safety Board should be expanded, not curtailed.”
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs in Livermore, California, said, “The DNFSB is absolutely vital to worker and public safety. I have spent 35 years monitoring Livermore Lab. I can tell you that workers and community members rely on the Safety Board to do its job—every day!”
The need for DNFSB oversight
The public outcry comes in response to the DOE’s effort to implement DOE Order 140.1 in ways that would dramatically limit the Safety Board’s role at some of the most dangerous nuclear facilities in the country.
Under the revised order, the Safety Board is prohibited from talking to contractor employees—the people closest to the work—without getting authorization from managers and DOE.
“In an institution with a terrible track record of abusing whistleblowers, it is crucial that DNFSB have access to any and all personnel as they explore safety issues at our sites,” said Ralph Hutchison of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. “Stifling the collection of information from the people who have the most direct knowledge is a brazen attempt to control and limit the Safety Board’s access.”
The DOE Order also removes some facilities— rated Category 3 and under nuclear facilities—from DNFSB oversight altogether. “In essence, this makes DOE and NNSA self-policing,” Hutchison said. “There will be virtually no independent oversight on safety issues at some of these dangerous nuclear facilities. That is unacceptable.”
Safety Board track record
Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge, noted numerous instances of Safety Board intervention that identified serious safety concerns. “The list of Safety Board accomplishments is too long to enumerate here,” Carpenter said. “Within just the past several years, the Safety Board identified numerous concerns about the build-up of explosive and flammable hydrogen gases in the Hanford waste tanks. They have also tagged issues at the Waste Treatment Plant, including criticality control, flaws in the design and construction of electrical systems, and erosion and corrosion in the pulse jet mixer system for high-level waste.
“These were issues the Board raised because DOE and its contractor had failed to self-identify or correct them. The Board identified major issues with the potential releases of ammonia at the Waste Treatment Plant as well as design flaws that could deliver fatal doses to workers in some parts of that facility.”
ANA groups charge that many hazards identified by the DNFSB across the nuclear weapons complex would not have otherwise been brought forward or corrected, creating unacceptable safety conditions that would present a menace to human health, safety, and the environment.
“The Safety Board can save taxpayers’ dollars when they are listened to,” noted Hutchison. “In Oak Ridge, the Safety Board repeatedly pushed for the NNSA to integrate safety into the design of the multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility bomb plant. NNSA refused—the result was a financial disaster that cost taxpayers more than half a billion dollars. It didn’t have to happen—if NNSA had listened to the Safety Board, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Don Hancock of Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico noted, “In a June 2011 report, the DNFSB identified that the Waste Isolation Pilot Project [WIPP] underground repository ‘does not adequately address the fire hazards and risks associated with underground operations…. [nor] recognize the potential impact of a fire on WIPP's ability to process waste, and ultimately on the ability to reduce inventories of transuranic waste at other DOE sites.’ Unfortunately, DOE did not adequately address those problems and a February 5, 2014, underground fire shut down the facility.”
DOE Order limits Safety Board access
Many of the Safety Board’s most useful contributions come in the process of evaluating DOE/NNSA construction projects for safety. The revised DOE Order prohibits DNFSB from having access to construction plans for expensive and dangerous facilities.
“What makes this even more outrageous,” said Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, “is that NNSA and DOE consistently top the Government Accountability Office’s list of high risk projects—every time the GAO updates their list, they repeat their finding on DOE and NNSA, that poor management makes them highly susceptible to project failure, cost and schedule overruns, and outright fraud.”
DNFSB recommendations in New Mexico and Oak Ridge have led to increased attention to seismic concerns as new facilities were being designed.
Coghlan said, “This Order will shackle dissenting voices, put a straightjacket on those who best know unsafe conditions (the workers themselves), and encourage additional retaliation against whistleblowers. The attempt to remove Hazard Category-3 and under facilities from DNFSB purview appears to run counter to the Safety Board’s enabling legislation.”
Kelley agreed. “At Livermore, the Order means DNFSB may be barred from inspecting—or even entering—the Tritium Facility and other hazardous buildings in which severe safety violations have led to major radiation releases.”
The job of the Board is set out in the congressional legislation that created it in 1988. Its statutory mission is to “provide independent analysis, advice, and recommendations to the Secretary of Energy to inform the Secretary, in the role of the Secretary as operator and regulator of the defense nuclear facilities of the Department of Energy, in providing adequate protection of public health and safety at defense nuclear facilities.” The Board also reports to Congress annually.
“Limiting access to information, facilities and personnel, as proposed by the new DOE Order, will hamper the Board’s important oversight work to keep Congress, DOE, the public and the media informed about DOE’s failures to keep workers and the public safe,” said Joni Arends, Director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Group calls for DOE/NNSA hearings
In a letter to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, ANA groups note that DOE is required by law to provide the Safety Board with ready access to facilities, personnel and information “as the Board considers necessary to carry out its responsibilities.” Noting that DOE’s Order was promulgated and put into effect with no public input, the ANA groups are calling for DOE to rescind the current Order. Barring that, ANA is asking Perry to hold the Order in abeyance and to hold public hearings across the DOE weapons complex within 90 days to explain the need for the change in the DOE’s Order and to receive public comment.
“When it comes to safety, too often we get lip service from DOE and NNSA. Citizens have no way of checking up on them,” said Hutchison. “We rely on the Safety Board. Their reports provide a window into the operations at sites across the country. Too often, they tell us of problems and incidents that pose risks to workers and potentially to the public. Of course, DOE and NNSA sometimes find this inconvenient—but that’s a small price to pay for operating as safely as possible. We are grateful for the technical expertise and the transparency that are the hallmarks of the work of DNFSB. This effort to constrain them is wrongheaded and dangerous.”
Fact Sheet: Alliance for Nuclear Accountability DNFSB Fact Sheet.
For pdf of press release, click here.
Contacts: Kathy Crandall Robinson (Washington, DC): 202 577 9875
Joni Arends (New Mexico): 505 986 1973
Tom Carpenter (Washington state): 206 419 5829
Tom Clements (South Carolina): 803 834 3084
Jay Coghlan (New Mexico): 505 989 7342
Don Hancock (New Mexico): 505 262 1862
Ralph Hutchison (Tennessee): 865 776 5050
Marylia Kelley (California): 925 443 7148
June 11, 2018
Richland, WA: The Department of Energy (DOE), is seeking public comment on a proposal to re-label (or “reclassify,” or “rename”) Hanford’s highly-radioactive tank waste so it will not have to comply with the time-consuming requirements of treating and disposing of the remaining tank waste in C-Farm in a legally-compliant (and protective) manner.
The proposal was released on June 4, 2018 on DOE’s Hanford website. DOE intends to declare and reclassify some 66,000 gallons of high-level radioactive waste “residue” in the C Tanks as “Waste Incidental to Reprocessing,” or WIR, which means the DOE is proposing to dump cement, or grout, on top of this waste, and abandon this waste in place.
“A serious question is now on the table: will the government live up to its legal duty to remove and dispose of high-level nuclear waste from Hanford, or leave it abandoned at Hanford using semantics,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of the non-profit organization Hanford Challenge. “This would be a serious setback for the cleanup at Hanford if the DOE is allowed to turn Hanford into the nation’s high-level nuclear waste dump. This will be challenged.”
Geoffrey Fettus, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the attorney who led a legal challenge to an earlier iteration of this idea in the early 2000s, stated, “Leaving untreated radioactive waste next to the Columbia River was a bad idea when the Bush administration tried it, and it’s an even worse idea now from the Trump administration. The people of the Pacific Northwest deserve better and we’ll be there with them opposing this unsound and unsafe effort.”
Even though DOE attempts to characterize the residual amount of waste as “incidental”, the volumes are quite large. For instance, DOE provided data on just one of the C Farm tanks, C-102, which reveals that the total volume of residual waste in tank C-102 is estimated at 59,214 cubic/ft, an amount that would fill a football field one foot deep. This waste contains plutonium concentrations 12 to 57 times greater than the plutonium disposal standard set by DOE and EPA. Plutonium has a half-life of 24,500 years meaning it will take over 240,000 years to decay.
The DOE has designated a 96-day Public Comment period for its proposal, with a deadline to submit comments by September 7, 2018. Hanford Challenge has requested the DOE to hold regional public hearings with the opportunity for public comment and to extend the comment period in order for the public to effectively weigh in on this proposal.
Cement does not effectively contain nuclear waste. Reports have stated that use of grout for long periods involved in the disposal of radioactive waste (more than 100 years) is outside the general operating envelope for cementitious materials. The cement also allows water infiltration and breaks down quickly in the presence of caustic materials such as nuclear waste. The DOE has spent hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to qualify grout at Hanford as a storage medium for long-lived nuclear waste. Those studies have all concluded that grout is not an effective storage medium.
Implications of the WIR Evaluation
The proposal violates the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. DOE does not have authority to re-label these wastes.
Abandoning long-lived nuclear wastes in the tanks at the volumes and concentrations that DOE is proposing also violates other legal requirements for the disposal of plutonium.
Hanford is not a qualified or appropriate place to dispose of high-level nuclear waste.
DOE has identified dozens of Hanford waste tanks contending that they contain no high-level nuclear waste, which would leave a pathway for using less rigorous standards to treat and dispose of this waste, potentially allowing these tanks to either be left in place and filled with concrete or to have wastes removed and dumped onsite in cement.
DOE would also relegate unto itself the authority to declare so-called residual waste from the rest of the Hanford tanks as “low-level waste,” potentially leaving tens of millions of gallons of this long-lived waste at Hanford.
This proposal would challenge the decades-long consensus that the path for Hanford’s tank waste is vitrification – immobilizing the wastes in glass and disposing of the vitrified waste in a deep, geologic repository.
“Let’s be clear – Hanford is proposing short-cuts to the cleanup that will save money, but will in the end further damage the environment, and impact human health and safety and future generations,” said Carpenter. “The Hanford site is particularly ill-suited to the long-term disposal of high-level waste, with a major river system bordering the site, subject to flooding, riddled with earthquake faults, situated near several active volcanoes, and periodic glacial flooding.”
Hanford Challenge is calling for Hanford’s tank waste to be removed, properly treated through vitrification, and legally disposed of in a deep geological repository licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The group called on Congress to stop the DOE’s plan to abandon tank waste in place at Hanford, and mandate that Hanford build new tanks to protect the groundwater and nearby Columbia River from future tank failures.
For pdf of press release, click here.
Richland, WA: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) put one of its contractors—Bechtel National, Inc.—on notice that it must explain what DOE called a “potentially unrecoverable quality issue” at a multi-billion dollar waste processing facility at the Hanford Nuclear Site in an official letter released by the non-profit organization Hanford Challenge.
The Waste Treatment Plant is a facility being built to vitrify high-level nuclear waste currently stored at Hanford in southeastern Washington.
The March 6, 2018 letter from DOE’s Office of River Protection to Bechtel National, Inc., the prime contractor hired to design and build the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) since 2000.
The letter, signed by DOE Federal Project Director William Hamel, states that DOE has “identified the quality records needed to demonstrate that the important-to-safety structural steel could perform its safety function were either missing or of indeterminate quality. This condition is a potentially unrecoverable quality issue.”
Earlier this week, DOE announced that Mr. Hamel, the author of the letter, was transferred from his position as Federal Project Manager to another part of the agency away from oversight duties at the Waste Treatment Plant.
The March 6th letter also stated that DOE also expressed concerns about other components such as rebar, hangers and piping not meeting safety requirements.
Internal documents obtained by Hanford Challenge indicate that approximately 14.4% of the required safety documents were missing from both the Low Activity Waste and Lab facilities.
DOE told Bechtel to promptly investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the structural steel to “justify the continuation of work.” DOE also directed Bechtel to brief DOE within 14 days concerning the results of the investigation to determine the extent of condition, to provide a technical basis for continuation of procurement activities to justify continuing work.
“This could be a showstopper. We applaud new DOE leadership for finally holding the contractor’s feet to the fire on this critical issue of quality assurance, but I’m more interested in what happens next. For DOE to fix this, it must enforce a rigorous nuclear safety culture and put a new contractor in place that takes nuclear quality assurance seriously,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director, Hanford Challenge.
As early as 2010, internal experts blew the whistle on this exact issue. The response was to fire their own experts, including the Manager of Research and Technology, Dr. Walter Tamosaitis, and Manager of Environmental and Nuclear Safety Donna Busche. “As a result of the contractors’ actions, this extremely crucial multi-billion dollar facility is at serious risk of being scrapped,” said Carpenter.
If the structural steel and other components cannot meet rigorous safety standards for nuclear operations, the plant cannot be allowed to operate. Commercial nuclear plants have been canceled for not being able to prove the quality and workmanship of safety components.
“This is a serious programmatic failure. You can’t inspect in safety, you have to build it in – making sure that everything installed in this plant has the right pedigree. The contractor needs to prove that the source and quality of materials installed are validated and verified. You can’t fix this after the fact, you have to start over. The contractor failed and needs to be held accountable for this multi-billion dollar screw up,” said Carpenter.
The WTP project has been plagued with cost and schedule overruns almost since its inception in 2000. High-level management whistleblowers revealed numerous quality and technical flaws that would affect safety of the operations of the facility.
WTP was originally supposed to begin operations in 2007, at a cost to the government of $4.6 billion. However, design changes, mismanagement, and other factors, including the decision to “fast-track” the facility by using a much-criticized design/build approach, skyrocketed the projected costs to an estimated $26 billion, with an opening date of 2036. Hanford management recently promised to treat so-called “low activity” radioactive waste by 2022. This deadline already appears to be at risk, especially when read in context with this latest DOE letter.
For pdf of press release, click here.
For DOE Letter, click here.
March 7, 2018
Seattle, WA: Today, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee will sign into law the most comprehensive legislation designed to provide Hanford nuclear site workers with one of the best medical compensation programs in the nation.
The Washington State Legislature recently passed House Bill 1723 to improve the standards that Hanford nuclear site workers must meet in order to receive worker compensation benefits.
“Washington State has recognized the often terrible price Hanford workers on the front lines of nuclear production and cleanup have to pay for their service to the nation,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge, who testified in favor of the law. “This law removes the unfair barriers that prevent workers from qualifying for worker compensation, despite working at the most contaminated and hazardous site in the nation.”
Randi Walli, Business Manager for UA Local 598 said, "When we brought this bill forward to the legislature we knew it would be a giant step towards justice for the men and women of the labor movement and our nuclear veterans. Our stance has always been that a cavalier attitude toward the health and safety of working families will not be tolerated and we are proud that our legislature shares that conviction."
In 2017, Hanford Challenge, United Association Local 598 Steamfitters and Plumbers (a Hanford union), and others promoted a legislative fix that would interrupt the cycle of workers being denied compensation or medical care. The first attempt died in the State Senate.
In 2018, State Representative Larry Haler from the Tri-Cities reintroduced the legislation in the State House. The legislation creates a "presumption of causation" in Washington's Labor & Industries law for Hanford workers seeking compensation for illnesses and injuries due to work exposures.
The new law relieves Hanford workers of having to show the exact chemical or toxin that they may have been exposed to while working at Hanford that caused an illness, including respiratory, heart, neurological diseases, and certain cancers.
Other provisions include:
workers, and families of workers who have died, and been denied compensation in the past can refile a claim under the new standards;
any Hanford worker who has worked a single 8-hour shift on the site itself is covered;
the law allows claims to be filed any time within the lifetime of the worker, without regard to the law's date of passage, acknowledging the long latency periods for exposure to many toxins such as asbestos, beryllium and radiation. In other words, a condition that develops from an exposure that occurred years ago would still be covered;
once a worker establishes a prima facie case of causation, the employer's rebuttal must be proved by clear and convincing evidence.
Hanford workers have not had access to WISHA or OSHA oversight because of the nature of the Hanford site’s management as a federal facility. National studies have also documented the higher rates of cancer and other diseases among DOE nuclear site workers.
“Hanford workers deserve the kind of legislative reform they just received that will help enable them to get that compensation and medical care resulting from illnesses caused by working at Hanford,” said Carpenter.
The Hanford nuclear site operated for 45 years to make plutonium, the highly radioactive fuel that is the engine for nuclear weapons. The site was a giant industrial concern, hosting nine nuclear production reactors, five chemical reprocessing facilities, and employing thousands. It was also operated under strict secrecy, with no outside oversight.
Hanford generated millions of tons of radioactive and chemical contaminants, many of them poorly understood from a health perspective. The national security mission made health and safety a backseat concern. Tens of thousands of workers were exposed to a vast array of highly toxic and radioactive materials, often with zero monitoring or documentation.
Even after Hanford shuttered its plutonium-making mission in 1989, a new era of cleanup began. New generations of workers continued to be exposed to a toxic soup of known cancer-causing, disease-inducing substances. More workers continue to get sick. Hanford cleanup will last decades, and is entering even more dangerous phases as demolition proceeds.
Hanford workers’ claims are denied at five times the rate of other self-insured employers (averaged over the past 5 years).
Hanford workers are forced to go to Independent Medical Exams that violate state standards.
Hanford workers who contest the denial of their claims are met with aggressive DOE legal tactics that interfere with objective claims management and create an uneven playing field.
Hanford’s workers’ compensation program is fraught with opportunities for DOE interference.
For pdf of press release, click here.
Letter to Gov. Inslee by the Department of Justice claiming HB 1723 violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and threatening litigation.
Hanford Challenge and UA 598’s letter to Gov. Inslee asking for him to support the Hanford Nuclear site workers who risk their lives to clean up the most contaminated waste site in the western world.
February 20, 2018
Seattle, WA: A Hanford watchdog group and a scientist today released findings showing 2 out of 5 vehicle filters from vehicles parked at Hanford’s Plutonium Finishing Plant (PFP) that had been tested and released as “clean” in fact contained radiological contamination.
Hanford Challenge collected the filters from Hanford sources and sent them to be analyzed by Dr. Marco Kaltofen, President of Boston Chemical Data Corp. and an affiliate research engineer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Program. The collection took place in the communities of Richland and Pasco, Washington.
The two filters that were determined to have contamination were from two separate vehicles, and contained americium-241. Americium-241 is a highly radioactive element that can be dangerous when ingested and can cause severe illnesses. Since it is not found naturally in the environment, there is little chance that the source of the americium is other than Hanford.
“Americium is a rare radioactive element, and does not belong in anybody’s engine compartment,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge. “The fact that vehicles were checked and released to these workers, only to find that they were still contaminated, raises disturbing questions about the credibility of Hanford’s program.”
Dr. Kaltofen said that, “Our initial testing has found that Hanford may be allowing radioactive dusts to leave the Hanford site. Even if the radioactive dust particles we’ve found are microscopic, they could still affect people’s health.”
Hanford Challenge and Dr. Kaltofen are moving on to the next phase of their study in order isolate and photograph any remaining plutonium or americium particles in the vehicle filters.
According to the EPA, americium-241 emits alpha particles, and “poses a significant risk if enough is swallowed or inhaled. Once in the body, americium tends to concentrate primarily in the skeleton, liver, and muscle. It generally stays in the body for decades and continues to expose the surrounding tissues to radiation. This may eventually increase a person’s chance of developing cancer, but such cancer effects may not become apparent for several years. Americium, however, also can pose a risk from direct external exposure.” July 2002 EPA Factsheet. The half-life of americium-241 is 432 years. It takes ten half-lives for a radioactive element to be considered harmless.
Carpenter said, “The owners of these vehicles are devastated and scared about the health of their families. These vehicles were used by their families, to carry groceries, and to go to and from work. The worry and concern that they have to live with now is gut-wrenching.”
The vehicles had been parked at the plutonium facility, which is being torn down, and driven home by workers. There have been multiple releases of plutonium and americium particles from the facility in 2017 outside the control boundaries, resulting in dozens of workers ingesting plutonium.
Hanford has reported that dozens of vehicles were contaminated in the most recent plutonium/americium releases in December 2017. Seven of those vehicles were private vehicles. Hanford management has said that the vehicles were decontaminated and returned to the workers. One of those contaminated and then declared clean was re-checked at the worker’s insistence. Two more spots of contamination were then detected, according to a February 5, 2018 daily report made public by Hanford.
Multiple stop works have been called at the Plutonium Finishing Plant over the last few months, including this morning in which a stop work was called on the use of PFP project government vehicles until further verification surveys for contamination are performed. The focus of these surveys will be on cabin filters and vehicle interiors.
View PDF of Press Release here.
Judge Finds workers have been harmed by vapors, denies preliminary injunction because workers currently on supplied air
Seattle, WA: U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice, issued a ruling denying Hanford Challenge, UA Local 598, and the State of Washington's motion for Preliminary Injunction in the RCRA Vapor Lawsuit, on the basis that workers are currently protected through use of supplied air. The decision noted that: "The Court does not deny that vapor exposures have occurred or that employees have experienced serious vapor-related illnesses. Defendants' arguments debunking and minimizing Hanford employees' health related claims are unpersuasive and belied by the record." (p.11)
Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge, commented: " The Judge agreed with our arguments that workers are harmed by vapors and are protected when they are on supplied air. They would not be on supplied air, if not for our lawsuit."
Carpenter said: "Bigger issues are at play here. This decision validates the need for permanent requirements that end the cycle of voluntary protective measures that have no enforceability and could end at any time." The court cites that mandatory use of supplied air will continue under the Memorandum of Agreement, yet Hanford Challenge notes that this agreement is voluntary and can be changed by the company and/or the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council at any time.
"Workers have suffered irreparable harm due to defendants' failure to mandate respiratory protection and such harm is likely to recur unless the court grants the requested injunction."
October 10, 2016
Seattle: A federal court will hear arguments on Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 9:45 am at the Thomas S. Foley U.S. Courthouse in Spokane, Washington in a high-stakes case to consider two separate motions (AG and Citizen Plaintiffs) related to the Hanford nuclear site’s toxic vapor program. The proceedings are open to the public.
“At stake is whether Hanford will be allowed to remove protective measures and once again put Hanford workers in harm’s way, despite the scores of workers who have suffered horribly from toxic vapor exposures,” said Tom Carpenter, Director of Hanford Challenge.
Lawsuits were filed against the Hanford nuclear site owner DOE and its contractor WRPS in federal court in September 2015, after numerous workers reported symptoms and illnesses from toxic vapor exposures resulting from working on Hanford’s underground nuclear waste tanks. Hanford is a former plutonium production facility in southeastern Washington State, undergoing a massive cleanup effort.
Over 170 tanks, each containing up to one million gallons of high-level nuclear waste, continuously and episodically release unfiltered toxic vapors into the breathing zone of Hanford workers, many of whom were not required to use respiratory protection until recently.
The plaintiffs include the WA Attorney General, Hanford Challenge and UA Local 598 (pipefitters). The defendants are the Department of Energy (DOE) and a Hanford contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS).
Plaintiffs have requested the federal court to issue an order, called a preliminary injunction, that would impose immediate requirements on the defendants to:
require the use of supplied air (SCBA) for all workers inside the fences at the Hanford tank farms;
post a 200-foot vapor control zone requiring supplied air use during waste-disturbing activities; and
install and deploy monitoring and alarming technologies on tanks.
If the court grants the motion for a preliminary injunction in whole or in part, the requested relief would stay in effect until the trial, which is currently set for September 2017.
View the entire press release here.
JUDGE CALLS HANFORD CONTRACTORS ARGUMENT "AN ASTONISHING DISPLAY OF CHUTZPAH"
September 19, 2016
Seattle, WA: Two Hanford nuclear site whistleblowers were vindicated in a strongly-worded court decision released today, with the judge directing a Hanford contractor to pay $216,080 in back pay and compensatory damages, before interest and attorney fees and costs.
Kirtley Clem and Matthew Spencer were employed as computer professionals at Hanford’s medical clinic, operated at the time by a contractor called Computer Sciences Corporation, or “CSC.” They were removed from the workplace in September 2012 after reporting numerous failures with a new Electronic Medical Records system (called “OHM”) to their supervisors and the U.S. Department of Energy. They alleged that the system could put worker health and safety at risk, but their concerns were brushed aside by management and the system was deployed over their objections.
The decision was filed by Judge Christopher Larsen, an Administrative Law Judge with the U.S. Department of Labor, on September 12, 2016, following a six-day trial in Kennewick, Washington.
In his decision, Judge Larsen characterized some of CSC’s arguments as “an astonishing display of chutzpah,” “evidentiary hash” and “not convincing.”
Judge Larsen found that CSC could not articulate—even at trial—a consistent reason for suspending Mr. Clem and Mr. Spencer. CSC had argued that Mr. Clem and Mr. Spencer were suspended for sharing confidential information with a competitor. However, CSC failed to make this argument at trial. Judge Larsen found that “there is simply no evidence in the record that Mr. Clem and Mr. Spencer had such information in the first place, much less passed it on” and that CSC’s “inability precisely to identify exactly what information [was] allegedly supplied . . . speaks volumes.”
Mr. Clem and Mr. Spencer are both represented by Hanford Challenge Staff Attorney Nikolas Peterson and outside counsel Stephani Ayers. Mr. Peterson said, “Hanford Challenge is proud to represent ethical employees like Kirt and Matt, and trust that this case will send a message to Hanford employers that retaliating against employees who raise safety, health, and other concerns is illegal and expensive.”
Mr. Clem said, “While I feel vindicated by this decision, I continue to be very disappointed in the DOE's inadequate protections for whistleblowers. DOE continues to tell employees they have the right and duty to raise concerns and that retaliation will not be tolerated. All too often, DOE pays the legal expenses for these contractors engaging in retaliation.” Clem concluded, “I'm also extremely appreciative of our legal team. They did an outstanding job. If it weren't for people like Mr. Peterson and Ms. Ayers, whistleblowers would have a much harder time defending themselves.”
View the entire press release here.
Hanford Toxic chemical vapor issue goes beyond tank farms
July 29, 2016
Seattle, WA: Hanford Challenge released a Complaint filed on June 1, 2016 by Hanford Whistleblower David Lee, an Instrument Specialist at the 222-S Labs, which is operated by Washington River Protection Solutions, Inc. (WRPS).
Mr. Lee was suspended and had his badge taken away after he called a Stop Work due to unsafe working conditions at a Hanford laboratory, including inadequate ventilation of the labs and inadequate handling of toxic oil from the lab equipment, resulting in potential vapor and dermal exposures to toxic waste without the proper protective equipment.
Nikolas F. Peterson, Staff Attorney at Hanford Challenge stated, “If Hanford continues to punish workers who raise concerns, then the message to the workforce is clear—look the other way and do not say anything. This is a recipe for disaster at a nuclear cleanup facility. In bringing this suit, Hanford Challenge is making sure that Dave, and other Hanford workers like Dave, have a voice.”
This complaint comes on the heels of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) slamming the Department of Energy on its failure to protect and encourage the reporting of critical nuclear and environmental safety issues at nuclear facilities. At a Press Conference for the GAO report, Senator Ron Wyden-OR said, “It is clear that Department of Energy contractors are going to go to amazing lengths to send a signal to their employees that when you blow the whistle, it is going to be the end of your career.” Sen. Wyden continued, “In my view the Department [of Energy] is guilty of willful negligence at best, and at worst, actively aiding in the violation of whistleblower rights.”
View the entire press release here.
July 21, 2016
Olympia, WA: In the aftermath of more than 50 workers exposed to toxic vapors at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Hanford Challenge and a Hanford union today asked a federal court to immediately order the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), to implement enhanced safety and vapor monitoring measures. Despite decades of knowing about the vapor problem, numerous reports outlining the issue, and the State of Washington’s lawsuit highlighting worker safety problems at Hanford, Energy and WRPS actually reduced worker safety measures such as supplied air since the lawsuit’s filing last September. “I’ve been asking for months: How many sick Washington workers will it take before the federal government fixes this problem?” Ferguson said. “The federal government’s culture of indifference to worker safety at Hanford must end. Now.”
“We are acting today to protect the Hanford workforce and end exposures to toxic chemical vapors at Hanford. Too many workers have already gotten sick and even disabled by brain and lung diseases. Hanford's cleanup mission will last decades, and workers deserve a safe workplace now and into the future,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge.
The Attorney General filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. The state filed its lawsuit against the federal government over Hanford worker safety in September 2015. Hanford Challenge, an advocacy group promoting worker health and safety, and UA Local 598, filed a similar motion in its own worker safety lawsuit.
Additional documents related to today’s filing will be uploaded here as they are filed with the court today.
View the entire press release here.
July 14, 2016
Seattle, WA: Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report criticizing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its handling of whistleblower protections. The GAO report is just the latest report documenting the long history of DOE’s failure to protect and encourage the reporting of critical nuclear and environmental safety issues at its aging and dangerous facilities.
Hanford Challenge releases their comments. View the entire press statement here.
The Department of Energy (DOE), owner of the Hanford nuclear site in southeastern
Washington State, recently issued a press statement dated 5/27/2016 to “address and correct
factual inaccuracies contained in KING 5’s June 8 report, “Hanford continues to mislead workers about
toxic vapors.” 1 The “corrections” made by DOE to King 5 are misleading and contrary to statements
made in a recent expert report which DOE and the contractor claim to have accepted.
VAPOR EXPOSURES AT HANFORD
June 27, 2016
When: Wednesday, June 29, 2016, 6:30-9:00 p.m.
Where: UA Local 598 (Pipefitters) Union Hall, 1328 N 28th Ave, Pasco, WA 99301 (directions)
Who: Bob Ferguson, Attorney General; Representatives from the offices of Senators Murray, Cantwell and Wyden; Tom Carpenter, Hanford Challenge; other public officials including mayors from the Tri-Cities; union officials; and other political figures.
Hanford Challenge has collaborated with Local Union 598 to hold a public meeting about worker health and safety on the Hanford site. The meeting, It's Your Turn to Speak Up: Vapor Exposures at Hanford will be held on Wednesday, June 29 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the UA Local 598 (Pipefitters) union hall.
The purpose of this meeting is to advocate for worker health and safety surrounding the issue of vapor exposures at Hanford. Giving public concerns a voice may speed along the implementation for better protections of Hanford workers.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson will be the keynote speaker, and there will be a few other short presentations before the floor is opened to public comment. Representatives from the offices of Senators Murray, Cantwell and Wyden will be in attendance, as well as other public officials including mayors from the Tri-Cities and union officials. Members of the public will have three to five minutes of time each to speak.
Plutonium, Cesium-137 Levels Detected in AY-101 Outer Shell
April 26, 2016
Seattle, WA: Hanford Challenge today alleged that a second high-level nuclear waste tank at the Hanford nuclear site may have failed.
The group, citing sources inside Hanford, says that above-background levels of Cesium-137, plutonium and a high-beta emitter (likely Strontium-90) all radioactive by-products commonly found in Hanford tanks, were recently measured outside of the primary liner in Tank AY-101, one of the first of the 28 double-shelled tanks built at Hanford about 40 years ago. Those measurements were confirmed to a highdegree of certainty, according to Hanford sources.
“The presence of these radioactive materials in the outer shell of the tank, known as the annulus, is a solid indicator that the primary shell of the tank has failed and is leaking high-level nuclear waste into the outer shell. This is the same indicator that tipped off workers that AY-102 had failed,” said Mike Geffre, an Instrument Technician who worked at Hanford who first discovered and disclosed the AY-102 leak.
The failure of a second double-shell tank at Hanford has very serious implications for the future: “Simply put, Hanford is nearly out of double-shell tank space, especially after pumping out AY-102 and emptying some of the shakier single-shell tanks,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director for Hanford Challenge. “There is no other realistic option but to begin building new tanks immediately.” The construction of new tanks may take from 5 to 7 years.
Tank AY-101 began operations in April 1971. It currently contains about 578,000 gallons of high-level waste. According to a Hanford report, corrosion was first observed in AY-101 in 1992, when video inspections in the annulus showed rust on areas of the primary tank and secondary liner walls. Further video inspection in January and February 2001 showed extensive corrosion on the walls of the annulus and the interior of primary tank. The video also showed a stain pattern that suggested a leakage of water through the primary tank wall from the annulus.
More recently, in January 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it had inspected AY-101 tank and found that there was no leak at that time. That inspection occurred because of the acknowledged failure of AY-102.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO, 15-40) report in 2014 found that, “DOE officials and members of a 2014 expert panel convened to examine the integrity of the DSTs [double-shell tanks] have said that corrosion is a threat to DST integrity, and, according to the panel, that there are deficiencies in DOE’s understanding of corrosion in all of the DSTs . . . DOE reported that at least 12 of the other 27 DSTs have similar construction flaws.” GAO, Id. At 14.
On Monday, April 18, 2016, King 5 News in Seattle reported that liquid levels of high-level waste in the outer shell of Tank AY-102 suddenly increased by thousands of gallons over the weekend. Approximately three to five thousand gallons of liquid waste ended up in the outer shell.
The Hanford nuclear site is the most contaminated facility in North America, storing two-thirds of the nation’s high-level nuclear waste. Hanford was built during World War II to produce the plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Hanford went on to create the plutonium for much of the US nuclear arsenal, leaving behind a complicated, dangerous and expensive legacy of radioactive waste.
The AY tanks are just 2 of the 177 underground nuclear waste tanks containing an estimated 56 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste. 67 single-shell tanks have leaked over one million gallons to the soil and groundwater. The double-shell waste tanks were built to be the safeguard against new single-shell tank leaks, and, until AY-102 failed, were previously considered to be stable and non- leaking. Double-shelled tanks have two steel walls, with a “tank within a tank” design that adds to the safety margin.
Labor department found in favor of walt ford in case against bechtel National, Inc.
March 14, 2016
What: Whistleblower retaliation hearing in the case of former Hanford worker Walt Ford against Bechtel National, Inc. and URS Energy & Construction
When: Tuesday, March 15, 2016, beginning at 8:30 am and expected to last 4 days
Where: Benton County Justice Center, 7320 West Quinault Avenue, Kennewick, WA 99336
Background: Mr. Ford was a Hanford millwright who worked for Bechtel National. He filed a complaint with the Labor Department in 2012 after being “laid off” in late 2011. Prior to his termination, Mr. Ford filed numerous reports concerning worker health and safety. The Secretary of Labor ruled that because he raised these concerns, Mr. Ford “was scrutinized and treated more harshly than other employees,” and that raising the concerns “was a contributing factor in Respondent Bechtel’s layoff decision.” The Energy Reorganization Act (ERA), a federal law, prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers.
Walt Ford, who has worked at the Hanford site for more than 30 years, has a history of speaking up in favor of safety. In 2000, Ford filed safety complaints with Fluor Hanford, Inc. regarding the Spent Nuclear Fuel Project. In 2004, he testified on behalf of his supervisor, Richard Cecil, who blew the whistle on Fluor. After being hired by Bechtel in 2007, Mr. Ford consistently reported safety concerns, and served as the Chair of Bechtel’s Materials Handling Facility Safety Council, a position he was voted into by his peers.
The Secretary of Labor’s finding was issued in August 2015, and found that Mr. Ford, a former employee of Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) was wrongfully terminated by Bechtel National, Inc. in 2011 in retaliation for raising safety concerns.
Nikolas Peterson, Staff Attorney at Hanford Challenge, and Stephani Ayers, lead counsel for Mr. Ford, are representing him in a hearing that starts on Tuesday, March 15 at the Benton County Justice Center, at 8:30 am. The hearing is open to the public.
Hanford plutonium-contaminated equipment leads to facility shutdown, contamination found offsite. Plutonium contaminated equipment found in Richland location, federal and state inquiries launched into where else contaminated equipment may have been shipped.
Ohio governor deploys hazmat team along with rad response teams to Ohio location.
December 18, 2015
Richland, WA: A plutonium-contaminated suit and contaminated equipment led to the shutdown of high-hazard work at Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant, leading to the discovery of plutonium contaminated equipment at a Richland, WA area location. Department of Energy Radiation Response Teams and Ohio hazmat team have made inquiries into contaminated equipment that was shipped off-site.
Contamination was first discovered on December 10, 2015 inside the suit of a Hanford worker assigned to clean-up at the Plutonium Finishing Plant, a heavily-contaminated facility that is being decommissioned and demolished.
Contamination was also discovered on a small cooling unit on the suits. Though the suits are discarded after use, the cooling units, called Vortex Coolers, are reused.
According to sources that contacted Hanford Challenge from the site, many of the Vortex Coolers were evaluated for contamination, with plutonium contamination found on some of the units.
Plutonium contamination was reportedly found on some Vortex units at the Hanford Fire station, which is on the Hanford Site, but outside of the Plutonium Finishing Plant. What’s more, other Vortex units had been shipped off-site.
Reportedly, three or more of the units were shipped to a vendor’s home in Richland, WA. A check of those units revealed a small amount of plutonium contamination. Though the amounts were small, contaminated equipment should never have been allowed to leave the Hanford Site.
Several units were being transported to Pennsylvania, and a stop was made in Cincinnati, apparently at a Mission Support Alliance facility (MSA is a Hanford contractor). Sources told Hanford Challenge that Ohio Governor Kasich ordered a hazmat unit, along with federal Radiation Response Teams, to the MSA location to check on those units. Apparently, no contamination was found in either Ohio or Pennsylvania.
Sources also claim that President Obama was briefed because plutonium had gone missing from a government-owned plutonium factory.
Workers at Hanford have also alleged that possibly unqualified workers may have been utilized as a cost-saving measure in the facility.
Hanford Challenge raises the following questions for the Department of Energy:
Why has Hanford failed to notify the public about these incidents, despite having learned of the incidents weeks ago, and then only revealing it after being questioned by a reporter, tipped off by Hanford Challenge?
Have any workers been exposed to contamination? If so, how much contamination, and are workers at risk?
Has DOE identified, located and tested all Vortex units that were at one time in use at Hanford?
Were unqualified or uncertified workers used at the facility as a cost-saving measure?
Hanford Challenge’s Executive Director, Tom Carpenter, stated, “What kind of operation is Hanford running out there? The failure of the government to notify the public is outrageous, and begs the question about what else they aren’t choosing to reveal. There needs to be a serious and deep inquiry into how this could have happened and how to prevent it from happening again.”
DOE proposal delays startup of WTP by 17 years. It is time to face reality and make a plan B.
November 23, 2015
Seattle, WA: Today, Hanford Challenge called on the Obama Administration to stop-work at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant and immediately undertake the construction of 12 new underground nuclear waste storage tanks.
Hanford Challenge, a public interest organization that is working to bring about a safe and effective cleanup of the nation’s largest and most expensive environmental cleanup, issued the call in response to the U.S. Department of Energy’s proposal to a federal court to adopt a new date of 2039 for the full startup of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant (WTP). The plant was originally scheduled to begin full-scale operations in 2011.
“Technical issues, delays, cost overruns, and quality assurance problems have been the story of this economic and environmental boondoggle. We have seen failure after failure in the attempt to save this sinking ship. Is the WTP dead in the water? Hanford Challenge wants Hanford’s highly radioactive tank waste immobilized in glass, but this path is not going to get us there. We need a plan B,” stated Hanford Challenge’s Executive Director Tom Carpenter.
Congress and the Administration should —
Immediately require DOE to build new waste tanks.
Stop all work on the Waste Treatment Plant
Establish an independent entity to design a new path forward for treating all 56 million gallons of tank waste and determine if the WTP facility can be salvaged at all, given its myriad of problems.
Replace Bechtel with a company that has a history of honestly meeting its performance guarantees and instilling a strong organizational culture, safety culture, and safety conscious work environment.
Strengthen the whistleblower protection laws for both DOE and contractor personnel at nuclear facilities and make retaliation against whistleblowers a criminal act. When found guilty, laws should stipulate that contractors are subject to punitive damages and are at risk of losing their contract.
Replace DOE with a commission that has the technical capacity and mandate to conduct a safe and effective nuclear cleanup with meaningful involvement of stakeholders, tribes and the public in decision making.
When Bechtel won the bid in 2000, it said it would cost $4.6 billion dollars to build the plant and their motto was “glass in 2008”. Now we are looking at a cumulative delay of over 3 decades and a total cost that will likely exceed $30 billion just to design and construct the facility. As designed, the WTP is only able to treat a fraction of the 56 million gallons of high-level tank waste. Note that these cited costs do not include the cost to operate these facilities nor treat the waste the WTP is not designed to handle.
“The facts must be faced: this plant has seen nothing but delay and more delay. By 2039 much of the plant equipment will be obsolete, equipment and pipes corroded and unreliable. It will be a safety nightmare,” said Carpenter.
Congress funds Bechtel nearly $700 million dollars per year. If this rate of spending continues over the course of DOE’s proposed 17 year delay, it will cost taxpayers an additional $12 billion, in addition to the $19 billion that has already been spent according to a June 2015 GAO estimate . This amounts to a $31 billion dollar investment in a facility that in all likelihood will not be licensable due to its quality assurance issues.
There is a documented pattern of reprisals and terminations related to the reporting of nuclear safety concerns at the Waste Treatment Plant. Senior technical managers and scientists have been publicly blowing the whistle on these concerns since 2010. Systemic change is needed to end this cultural of reprisal.
One-third of Hanford’s 177 high-level radioactive waste tanks have leaked more than a million gallons that threaten the Columbia River – the largest fresh water artery in the Northwest United States. Despite a 30 year effort to engineer a vitrification system to safely immobilize this waste, not a single drop has been processed for safe disposal.
“The United States put a human on the moon in less than a decade using slide rulers, but DOE and Bechtel cannot build a waste treatment plant in less than 40 years. Systemic changes are needed to avoid repeating the failures of the past. The stakes are too high to continue business as usual,” said Carpenter.
IT Programmers Removed from Workplace after Reporting Concerns over Potential Endangerment with Electronic Medical Records System at Hanford Clinic
November 16, 2015
WHAT: Hearing before a U.S. Labor Department Administrative Law Judge on a case involving two former Hanford IT professionals who were removed after reporting a broken electronic medical system whose failure risks exposing workers and putting workers’ health and safety in jeopardy.
WHEN: Tuesday, November 17, 2015, 9 am to 4 pm, through Thursday, 9 am to 4 pm.
WHO: The two IT professionals are Kirt Clem and Matthew Spencer, represented by Hanford Challenge’s staff attorney Nikolas Peterson and outside counsel Stephani Ayers. The contractor is CSC, Inc., currently a sub-contractor to HPMC Occupational Medical Services, otherwise known as the Hanford medical clinic. The U.S. Department of Labor implements whistleblower protection laws, including the Nuclear Whistleblower Protection Act, through the Administrative Law Judge office.
WHERE: Benton County Justice Center, 7320 West Quinault Avenue, Kennewick, WA 99336