Walter Tamosaitis, a senior executive who lost his job at the Hanford vitrification plant, has filed a retaliation complaint against URS, the main subcontractor on the project.
The complaint filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration details the performance and safety issues Tamosaitis said he raised while working as the manager of the research and technology division on the project.
He is alleging that he was subjected to a hostile working environment, had his future career threatened and was removed from the project in retaliation for raising issues.
URS declined to comment Friday, citing its investigation into issues raised by Tamosaitis.
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In addition, investigations are being conducted into safety or retaliation issues by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board; the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General; the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security; and Bechtel National, the vitrification plant contractor.
Tamosaitis was fired July 2, told to leave the building immediately and then reassigned to another URS job off Hanford without the same level of responsibility, the complaint said. Just after he was reassigned, his supervisor advised him he that if he took issues to court, Bechtel would win, and "if you pursue this, your longevity is in danger," the complaint said.
Bechtel maintains Tamosaitis was transferred because of long-discussed staffing changes related to the resolution of technical issues and that safety issues had nothing to do with it.
The complaint detailed allegations of Bechtel dragging its feet to resolve issues as early as 2006, when Tamosaitis said Bechtel delayed responding to the 28 technical issues identified by a "best and brightest review" headed by Tamosaitis. The study was conducted in response to criticism at a Congressional hearing.
Among issues Tamosaitis has worked to address are whether the plant will be able to keep high-level radioactive waste adequately mixed for safe and efficient treatment, whether proposed fixes to mixing issues are practical and how to keep pipes from plugging with waste.
But Bechtel has opposed some proposed solutions in favor of ones that are less robust and less expensive, the complaint said.
Although work on the mixing issue apparently ended in time to meet a June 30 deadline, several factors remain unresolved, the complaint said. Employees had been told for months how important it was for careers and compensation for the mixing issues to be closed, the complaint said.
Bechtel and URS leaders have said that any mixing issues can be solved during startup of the vit plant, the complaint said.
"Making design changes at startup is highly questionable," the complaint said. Major modification would be required to enter the tanks and if waste had been sent through them already, making the changes would be extremely hazardous to workers, the complaint said.
Tamosaitis has been concerned that Bechtel, particularly in the past year, has sought to solve issues by applying political pressure, rather than by a sound technical approach, the complaint said.
In another example, in late 2008 or early 2009 Bechtel took issue with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on how to prevent thick radioactive waste from plugging pipes, the complaint said.
PNNL engineers recommended changing a calculation model to add to flow capacity, which would prevent many pipelines from being approved for use, the complaint said. As ofJuly 30, the conflict in accepting the report had not been resolved, the complaint said.
In June 2009, the Bechtel engineering manager asked that technical issues be compiled. Tamosaitis submitted 100 issues, but Bechtel downplayed their importance and classified them in a way that resulted in little action for many of them, the complaint said.
The wrap-up exercise was repeated in July 2010. Tamosaitis raised 50 issues then and was released from the vit plant project the next day, even though he said his work group had projects and budget money for two more years of work.
Bechtel responded to the OSHA complaint, saying in a statement that the vitrification plant project has a long history of soliciting identification of technical issues from staff and outside experts.
"Many independent experts from industry, academia and the national laboratories have helped play an active role in the design process, and helped confirm that the plant will work safely and efficiently while protecting workers, the public and the environment," the Bechtel statement said.
Tamosaitis is asking to be compensated for future lost wages and benefits and to be compensated for emotional harm. He also is asking for additional damages to impress on other DOE contractors the significance of improper actions.
However, he also is asking for improvements at the vitrification plant, including regular independent reviews of the safety culture, an issue resolution process and management training to prevent issue suppression.
Tamosaitis is represented in the complaint by attorneys Jack Sheridan and Tom Carpenter, the executive director of Hanford Challenge.
-- On the net: Link to the complaint, http://tinyurl.com/2dx4yxz