Washington's Hanford nuclear facility is home to the world's worst radioactive dump site. This year for the first time ever, the Department of Energy is


The Stories Kids Touring Hanford's Nuclear Plant Won't Get to Hear

Washington's Hanford nuclear facility is home to the world's worst radioactive dump site. This year for the first time ever, the Department of Energy is allowing school kids to tour the world's original production-scale nuclear reactor, but there are plenty of secrets which the tour guide probably won't mention.

Last fall, we published a cover story that looked at the boondoggle that is the massive cleanup of the nuclear dump site, with a follow up on what an environmental crisis at Hanford would look like. Then, last month, we published another cover story about whistleblowers crying foul over the institutional problems within Hanford management. Given all that coverage, here are some facts about Hanford you likely won't hear on the tour:

  • 56 million gallons of radioactive waste are stored nearby in old tanks that might be leaking and could explode at any time.

Hanford's waste currently remains in old, underground tanks that are decades past their lifespan... These tanks hold hot nuclear gunk and are living well past their so-called "design life." Thus far, the Department of Energy (DOE) notes that one-third of these elderly tanks are most likely leaking. Since these containers are not safely contained, there is always the chance of a future explosion.

  • Management at the Department of Energy routinely sabotage safety oversight.

Management kept her isolated and out of meetings that she was both authorized to and required to attend. She also says that since Bechtel "controls the work and supervision of persons assigned to [her]," that the company has "actively sabotaged her work since [Bechtel] employees go around her, defy her efforts to supervise them . . . all without consequence.

  • Hanford contractors don't like to stop projects for safety violations because getting done on schedule means bonuses.

beginning in 2010, the lead contractor at Hanford, Bechtel National Inc., shirked safety compliance, signing off on shoddy work in order to meet deadlines that would earn the contractor large financial incentives. ...The company would receive a $5 million bonus for reaching cost and schedule goals. Busche says that during this time she was viewed as a roadblock to meeting these goals. As a result, Busche's concerns were suppressed and Bechtel managers allegedly sought ways to retaliate against her.

  • Hanford management sexually harassed a female safety inspector.

(Manager) Gay made inappropriate and sexist comments to her in an unscheduled meeting, "including comments that women react emotionally while men use logical thinking." Gay also allegedly told Busche that, as an attractive woman, she should use her "feminine wiles" to better communicate with her male cohorts. Gay apparently also said that if Busche were single, "he would pursue a romantic relationship with her.

  • Management pulled an engineer to scare other employees into submission.

He was removed from his job and forced to work in an offsite windowless basement office as a warning of sorts to others who were contemplating speaking out.

  • When problems can't be avoided, Hanford picks the cheapest option to trick taxpayers into buying the better option.

because, according to their contract, if the DOE picks a more expensive solution to a problem, they, rather than Bechtel, have to cover the costs by adding funds to Bechtel's [baseline] budget

  • Contractors prefer tech that doesn't work well instead of spending a few million dollars to develop new technology which might save billions.

Bechtel was not supportive of Thorson's efforts, however, because more than $11 million worth of research and testing was required to develop and qualify the resin, despite its potential long-term savings of billions of dollars. Another resin already existed, and despite all its problems and associated high cost, Bechtel contended it was acceptable, and told Thorson to stop the development effort. ...The DOE thought otherwise...When all is said and done, Thorson's resin will save taxpayers at least $3 billion.

  • Hanford projects are mismanaged and, more often than not, never completed.

A 2007 SIGIR report found that fewer than half of Bechtel's projects had met their original objectives. Additionally, the majority of Bechtel's Iraq projects were canceled, reduced in scope, or never completed at all.

  • Critical reports are classified to limit exposure to bad press.

Once again, the evaluation found serious vulnerabilities with the (Hanford Waste Treatment Plant) that would likely require design changes and testing to remedy. The results of the report were briefed to the DOE.

At that point, however, the report's classification was revised, then reissued as "business sensitive" and for "official use only," rather than being released publicly as intended. "The stated reason from the DOE at the meeting was to keep it out of the hands of potential critical reviewers such as the (Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board)," says Thorson.

Enjoy the tour, kids!

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