Whistleblowers at Hanford

By Jackie Yeh, a senior at Charles Wright Academy

What is a whistleblower? Why is the role of whistleblower important? A whistleblower is a person who informs others about an individual or organization that they believe to be engaging in illicit activity. In other words, a whistleblower is somebody who speaks out about an organization that is not doing what it is supposed to be doing. If somebody “blows the whistle,” then they bring attention to a certain aspect of an organization that has not yet been revealed.

Walt and  Sandy Tamosaitis
Walt and Sandy Tamosaitis

Two Hanford whistleblowers I interviewed — Walt Tamosaitis and Donna Busche — shared their concerns about possible negligence at Hanford. According to Walt, if Hanford had followed through on its initial design for the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) and included appropriate safety measures, not as many issues would have arisen. The WTP is a huge facility being designed and built to turn millions of gallons of radioactive tank waste at Hanford into a safer glass form for long-term storage. “For every DOE manager on the project, there are 100-200 contractors underneath each manager, and these contractors are mostly interested in making money, not in handling the project safely or efficiently,” said Walt.

Whistleblowers are important to society because they serve as an impetus for needed change. For instance, Walt, a former scientist at Bechtel, was hired by the government to work on the WTP. However, he was fired after bringing attention to some safety concerns regarding the design of the plant and has now been deemed a “whistleblower.” He has argued that many of the difficulties resulted from management issues. Because of Walt, the media has received more notice of concerns at Hanford, which may help pave the way for positive change. Walt stated that, “Before instituting any kind of new technology, such as nuclear technology, the government must consider the output. People must recognize that they may put something in the box but what comes out can be a devastating discovery.”

In order to follow through with a plan, Hanford must take measures to ensure the safety of workers and to prevent further damage to the environment.

Donna Busche
Donna Busche

Former manager Donna Busche is another one of a long line of whistleblowers at Hanford. Donna was fired after raising some safety concerns at Hanford. She argued that the majority of the safety problems at Hanford involved worker exposure to highly toxic chemicals and gases from the tank farms. Donna explained that pinpointing causes of cancer among workers was extremely difficult, leading to many Hanford workers being denied worker’s compensation.

Ultimately, whistleblowers play a pertinent role in creating change and bringing needed awareness. I admire whistleblowers for having the courage to risk their livelihoods in an effort to create change and maintain their ethics. With more people standing up for what they believe in, more justice can prevail.

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