May 12, 2016

Wyden Presses Energy Department Inspector General Nominee on Hanford

A week after visiting Hanford, Wyden pushes Energy Department for action

Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today pressed the nominee for the Department of Energy’s Inspector General post about changing the way the department manages the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state.

At a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Wyden asked Susan Beard to provide a timeline within 72 hours for actions she will take as inspector general to change the way clean-up is managed at Hanford.

“I was there last week, and the Hanford site’s legacy of failed performance and retaliation against whistleblowers and workers who raise safety concerns is alive and well,” Wyden said.

During Wyden’s visit to Hanford last week, he discussed a U.S. Government Accountability Office report issued last year that showed $19 billion has been spent over the past 25 years to clean up high-level waste at Hanford. To date, none of the high-level waste has actually been treated.

“If getting this waste cleaned up wasn’t so essential to public health and environmental protection, I guess it might be a sequel for the movie Money Pit,” he said at Thursday’s hearing.

Wyden also met with workers last week after some Hanford employees reported smelling vapors from the tank farm where radioactive waste is stored. More than 40 workers have sought medical attention following possible exposure to the chemical vapors.

Two employees – Dr. Walt Tomasaitis and Donna Busche – were fired by department contractors after reporting safety concerns. At least two other Hanford contractors retaliated against employee whistleblowers, according to investigations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Last year, Wyden asked the Energy Department’s former Inspector General Greg Friedman to investigate the activities of a department contractor, Bechtel National, Inc., after a company report showed that $277 million of taxpayer money has been spent on work orders that have not been completed at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant.

Wyden has repeatedly called on the Department of Energy to improve oversight and safety practices at Hanford. Starting with a law he wrote more than 20 years ago while in the U.S. House of Representatives that required the DOE to remediate risks of flammable gas leaks from high-level radioactive waste storage tanks, he continues to push the DOE for solutions.

According to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the DOE has still not implemented adequate protections against the risk of fire and explosions in the tanks.

Wyden is a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Click Here for Audio of Wyden’s Remarks