Donna Busche, a nuclear engineer and health physicist, files a suit alleging that executives tried to dissuade her from raising warnings about serious problems with the waste site’s design.
The long-troubled project to clean up radioactive waste in Hanford, Wash., has come under attack from another senior manager, the third to assert that top executives are ignoring serious problems in the plant’s design.
Donna Busche, the manager of environmental and nuclear safety for San Francisco-based URS Corp., alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that executives at the $13.4-billion project attempted to suppress her warnings and were working to fire her.
Busche, a nuclear engineer and health physicist, alleged that pressure to meet deadlines led the company to retaliate against her for insisting on stringent safety practices at the former nuclear weapons complex.
Hanford is the nation’s most contaminated piece of property, home to 56 million gallons of highly radioactive sludge in underground tanks that pose a long-term risk of leaking into the Columbia River. Dozens of the tanks are already leaking and threatening the largest river in the western U.S.
The suit refers to that dispute, which surfaced at a lengthy hearing conducted in 2010 by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent federal agency. During days of testimony, Busche was often at odds with officials from her own company and the Energy Department. In her lawsuit, Busche said that URS and Bechtel officials had privately asked whether she could alter her testimony and she refused.
The safety board apparently knew that she was under pressure. During the hearings, a safety board member asked whether she was up to the pressure that was likely to be applied to her, apparently not knowing her assertions that she was already being asked to change her testimony. She assured the board she was capable of withstanding the pressure, according to a transcript of the safety board hearing.
In the aftermath of the hearings, URS officials told her to stop putting her safety concerns in writing, she claims in the suit, and Bechtel “actively sabotaged her work.”
Continue reading at Manager says safety issues are ignored at Hanford nuclear site