Hanford whistleblower Tamosaitis loses his job

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldOctober 4, 2013 

Hanford whistleblower Walter Tamosaitis was laid off this week after 44 years of employment with URS Corp., he said.

Three years ago he lost his position as research and technology manager for the $12.2 billion Hanford vitrification plant, but continued to be employed at URS.

When he was removed from the vitrification plant project, he asked the Defense Nuclear Facilities Board to investigate, saying that safety and design concerns were being suppressed at the plant.

He believes he was dismissed from the project for persisting in raising concerns about the future safe operations of the plant, as much of a $6 million payment to contractors on the project was on the line, according to court documents. However, Bechtel National and URS, its main subcontractor, say his work was ending and he was dismissed for writing a disrespectful email.

To receive 26 weeks of severance pay from URS after being laid off, Tamosaitis is required to sign a document releasing URS from any liability, he said. But he has appeals pending after lawsuits against Bechtel, URS and the Department of Energy were dismissed before going to trial.

DOE has made provisional payments of $952,673 through September 2012 to pay for outside attorneys to defend URS in the lawsuit filed by Tamosaitis, according to information obtained by Hanford Challenge from a Freedom of Information Act request. In addition, Bechtel has been reimbursed $144,917 through September 2011.

Tamosaitis said Friday that 130 people in his working group were considered for layoffs and five were picked. He was the only worker based in Richland, he said.

"While we will not comment on specific matters, in recent months URS has reduced employment levels in our federal sector business due to budgetary constraints," URS said in a prepared statement. "URS encourages its employees to raise any concerns about safety, which remains the company's highest priority."

Three years after Tamosaitis was removed from his leadership position at the vitrification plant, he said he has no regrets, despite leading no major projects since then.

"I wholeheartedly believe I did the right thing," he said, pointing to events since his dismissal from the plant.

Reviews were launched to consider whether workers at the vitrification plant felt free to raise issues about the future safe operation of the plant without fear of retaliation.

The Department of Energy continues to work on meeting recommendations of the defense board to improve the safety culture at the vitrification plant and at other nuclear sites across the DOE complex. DOE gave the defense board a revised schedule last week, saying it would be working to meet the recommendations through September 2014.

Questions also have not been resolved about the safe and efficient operation of the vitrification plant.

Former Secretary Steven Chu stopped construction on key parts of the vitrification plant until technical issues are addressed and work remains stopped at the Pretreatment Facility and part of the High Level Waste Facility.

Chu spent several days at Hanford in September 2012 with a hand-picked group of experts to consider technical issues, which led to more groups being formed to look at specific concerns.

Last week Secretary Ernest Moniz released what DOE called a "framework" developed over the last year that provided options to be considered to move work at the vitrification plant toward completion while technical issues continue to be resolved.

This week the DOE Office of Inspector General released an audit report that found Hanford officials had not followed procedures to prove that changes to the design of vitrification plant equipment would be safe once the plant begins operating.

w Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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