Hanford News: URS Whistleblower Laid Off, Report Finds Fault With Vit Plant Documentation

URS Corp. has laid off an engineer who raised concerns about the safety of a vitrification plant under construction at Hanford that has since stalled because of design problems.

Hanford Waste Treatment Plant. Source: DOEThe Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that URS Corp. dismissed Walter Tamosaitis during layoffs the company said were driven by budget reasons. After raising questions about the design of the $12.2 billion project in 2011, he has since found an audience in the U.S. Senate, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which concurred with his concerns. Tamosaitis alleged URS retaliated by stripping him of his duties related to the project, although a federal court last year dismissed a whistleblower lawsuit he had filed in response.

Last week also saw publication of a Department of Energy inspector general's report critical of quality control at the vit plant project. The report concluded that primary contractor Bechtel National failed to properly review design changes and in many cases did not provide documentation proving that safety-related design changes were implemented.

As an example, investigators said that in a sample of 235 design documents, more than a third had not been reviewed by Bechtel's Environmental & Nuclear Safety Group, as required.  Additionally, Bechtel could not provide documentation proving repairs to a low-activity waste melter lid had been conducted.

According to the report, Bechtel took immediate action during the inspector general's audit. Both the company and the DOE office overseeing it promised to address and monitor the quality control issues.

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