Hard-won safety protections for Hanford workers could be lost under a bill the U.S. House may consider today, according to the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council.
However, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., disagrees that the bill would affect Hanford.
The fiscal 2013 Defense Authorization Act would substitute Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety standards for Department of Energy standards in DOE's nuclear weapons complex, according to fact sheets developed by national organized labor groups.
Some DOE standards are stricter than OSHA standards, including the beryllium standard. DOE's standard is 10 times as protective as OSHA's.
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The bill would transfer health and safety responsibilities from DOE's Office of Health, Safety and Security to the quasi-independent National Nuclear Security Administration. The ability to impose fines for violations would be lost, according to the organized labor fact sheet.
Radiation protection standards for workers also would be weakened from the traditional ALARA -- as low as reasonably achievable -- to as low as reasonably practicable, according to the fact sheet.
The fact sheet was developed by the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, Metal Trades Department, Laborers International Union of North American and United Steelworkers of America.
The changes are targeted to the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, and Hanford is under the authority of DOE's Office of Environmental Management. However, last summer the Office of Environmental Management was placed under the authority of the undersecretary for nuclear security, Thomas D'Agostino, who leads the NNSA.
Although DOE has stressed that the Office of Environmental Management is not part of NNSA, that is not how oversight appears to be working, said Dave Molnaa, president of HAMTC, a labor organization representing 15 unions working at Hanford.
"I think it is going to impact us," he said. "We're definitely concerned."
Hastings plans to support an amendment that would clarify that nothing in the bill should be construed to require a decrease in nuclear safety, according to his staff.
"Nothing in this bill changed DOE safety standards for Hanford or authority over safety standards at Hanford," said Jessica Gleason, spokeswoman for Hastings.
The amendment, filed by Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, as chairman of the Armed Forces Strategic Forces Subcommittee, would clarify that "adequate protection" is the nuclear safety standard for defense nuclear facilities and that nuclear safety policies, regulations, analysis and recommendations should be risk-based.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., also has filed an amendment with Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., that would delete the section of the bill that establishes a new regulatory framework for health, safety and security at NNSA facilities.
Miller said the bill as written "represents a shift to extensive contractor self-regulation and all but eliminates the government's role in protecting workers and the public," according to a press release from Tri-Valley CARES, a watchdog of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
"Such a model is recklessly inappropriate for an industry that uses ultrahazardous materials and technologies," Miller was quoted as saying.
The DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security, or HSS, has played a key role in two high-profile issues at Hanford in recent years.
A 2010 inspection by HSS led to continuing improvements in the beryllium protection program for Hanford workers. Small particles of the metal that remain at Hanford from past machining for fuel cladding and other uses can cause an incurable lung disease in those with a genetic susceptibility.
HSS has held DOE's feet to the fire on beryllium protection, and without HSS's backing, the improvements could go away, Molnaa said.
HSS also performed the most comprehensive evaluation among several conducted on the nuclear safety culture at the Hanford vitrification plant under construction. It found a significant number of federal and contractor staff on the project reported they were reluctant to raise safety or quality concerns about the plant's design.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com