Walt Tamosaitis, Hanford Whistleblower Once Consigned to Basement Dungeon, Presses Safety Concerns in Kennewick and Seattle

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Walt Tamosaitis, the Hanford engineer turned whistleblower and one of the "toxic avengers" SW profiled last month, finally made it out of the basement dungeon to which his government contractor consigned him. But that hasn't stopped him from speaking out. He's got a full schedule this week.

Today, Tamosaitis plans to provide public comment at a Kennewick hearing held by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. It promises to be a lively event.

The board, an independent agency charged with advising the president and the U.S. Department of Energy on nuclear safety issues, has already declared Hanford's "safety culture" to be "in need of prompt, major improvement"--an assessment backed up by an even more thorough report released in January by an office within the DOE itself.

One of today's panels will feature Donna Busche, the plant's safety manager and the latest to raise concerns. She's the only whistleblower on the panel, otherwise comprised of officials from DOE and its contractors, observes Tamosaitis. He nevertheless says he expects Busche, by all accounts a smart and tough engineer, to "eat them alive."

Occupy Portland also plans to have a contingent at the hearing.

For his part, Tamosaitis tells SW that he plans to raise questions about the DOE's response to the board's stinging assessment of its safety culture. The department last December issued a plan for "corrective actions," which include assorted "self-assessments," "reviews" and safety education programs.

"The question is: Where's the beef?" says the voluble, 65-year-old Tamosatis, who argues that the plan doesn't go nearly far enough. For starters, he says he would have liked to see the department press its Hanford contractors for changes in leadership.

On Friday, Tamosaitis will travel to Seattle University for another event aimed at promoting the practice of whistleblowing itself. The non-profit Government Accountability Project is putting on the event, part of a national "American whistleblower tour." Along with whistleblowers from Citigroup and a meat processing company, Tamosaitis will tell his story.

It's a doozy. Tamosaitis says that after he raised safety concerns in 2010, contractor URS immediately kicked him off the Hanford site and put him in a basement office of another business group it runs in Richland. In December, after Tamosaitis testified before a U.S. Senate hearing, the contractor brought him upstairs.

But he says he has been given virtually no work to do. "I'm not even sure who I report to or what my title is," he says. Indeed, he declares that he has only a vague idea of what the business group does, although he knows it has something to do with marketing.

So, he spends his days talking to reporters and raising awareness about safety issues. He says the non-job job is a "crazy set up" and a career killer. He's embroiled in two lawsuits against the DOE and its contractors because of it. The irony is, though, that by trying to suppress Tamosaitis, his employer has instead turned him into a full-time whistleblower.

 
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