March 20, 2018

Wyden Presses Energy Secretary over Possible Hanford Cleanup Cover-up, Trump Administration Proposal to Privatize Bonneville Power

Energy Department Employee Transferred After Raising Concerns about Viability of the $17 billion Nuclear Waste Treatment Plant at Hanford

Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today pressed Energy Secretary Rick Perry over new reports that an Energy Department project manager was transferred after raising concerns about the safety and viability of the steel used to build a plant meant to treat radioactive nuclear waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State.

The employee, Bill Hamel, had been the federal project director overseeing construction at the Waste Treatment Plant at Hanford until last week, when he was transferred to the Richland Operations Office, an entirely separate DOE office at Hanford. Hamel was transferred after he raised concerns that the private contractor charged with constructing the Waste Treatment Plant could not show that the steel used to build the plant complied with safety standards. Hamel said in a letter to the company, Bechtel, that the problems with the steel were so substantial that they presented “a potentially unrecoverable quality issue.”

Bechtel has been awarded billions by the Department of Energy to construct the Waste Treatment Plant, but the plant has yet to treat any nuclear waste.

“The Department of Energy might never be able to open the Waste Treatment Plant at Hanford after billions of dollars have been spent and decades of effort,” Wyden said. “A week after raising this issue, Mr. Hamel was transferred – an event I have difficulty believing was a coincidence.”

Wyden has fought for improved safety for workers and against misuses of taxpayer dollars at the Hanford site throughout his career in Congress.

At the hearing today, Wyden also pressed Perry over the Trump administration’s latest attempt to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration, a move that would likely raise utility rates for Oregon families and businesses. Additionally, Wyden stressed the unique capabilities at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Albany, Oregon. The Trump administration proposed to eliminate funding for the facility.

“The Bonneville Power Administration has provided affordable, clean power to Oregon families and businesses and our neighbors throughout the Northwest for generations,” Wyden said. I told the Bush administration, George W. Bush, that Bonneville wasn’t going to get sold on my watch. And it isn’t going to get sold now either. So I just want to put you on notice.”

A video link of Wyden’s questions of Perry is here.