The Department of Energy raises some valid concerns about the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board's investigation into possible witness tampering at Hanford.
But none of them justifies DOE's call for the board to drop its investigation immediately into allegations that some Hanford workers were pressured to downplay safety concerns during an October hearing on the vitrification plant.
A more appropriate response would be to pledge the department's full cooperation in helping the independent panel of nuclear safety experts complete its investigation.
It's troubling to see DOE take the opposite tack and challenge the board's authority.
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A letter signed by two of DOE's lawyers questions whether the board has the necessary jurisdiction or expertise to conduct the investigation.
Challenges to the board's competence to complete what's tantamount to a criminal investigation might hold some merit.
According to the letter, such an investigation requires "significant expertise and experienced judgment," Herald reporter Annette Cary wrote this week.
But the board can consult whatever experts are needed to get to the bottom of the allegations.
We're more worried by DOE's contention that the issue is outside the independent panel's jurisdiction. The opposite seems true -- the board would be derelict if it failed to investigate allegations of witness tampering at one of its hearings.
DOE suggests that jurisdiction belongs to the Offices of Inspectors General or the Department of Justice. Perhaps, but it doesn't need to end there.
The board was commissioned by Congress to provide independent oversight of nuclear safety at DOE weapons sites.
It's impossible to carry out that mission without determining whether the people who work for DOE and its contractors feel free to raise concerns.
A safety culture can't exist where schedule and cost pressures take precedence over safety issues. If workers feel coerced or intimidated into downplaying their concerns, safety seriously is compromised.
DOE conducted its own investigation and concluded that no one at the DOE or at one of its contractors took improper actions to influence testimony.
That good news is considerably weakened without the independent verification that the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board can provide.
An outsider's perspective is needed not only to help DOE overcome any potential blind spots, but also to give the public confidence that the vitrification plant safely can operate.
Board members are bright people, accomplished in science, industry and government. They're entrusted with safeguarding the public from some of the nation's most dangerous facilities and operations.
They are capable of handling this alleged tampering issue.
Dismissing the board's findings before it issues a report makes DOE appear fearful of the outcome.