A whistleblower who raised safety concerns at the most polluted nuclear weapons production site in the U.S. has been fired from her job at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Donna Busche’s complaints are part of a string of whistleblower and other claims related to the design and safety of an unfinished waste treatment plant at Hanford, created by the U.S. federal government in the 1940s as part of the top-secret project to build the atomic bomb. Today, it is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, where cleanup costs about $2 billion each year.
Ms. Busche, 50, said she was called into the office yesterday morning and told she was being fired for cause.
“I turned in my key and turned in my badge and left the building,” Ms. Busche told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Richland, where Hanford is located.
Ms. Busche worked for URS Corp., which is helping build a $12 billion plant to turn Hanford’s most dangerous wastes into glass. Construction of the plant has been halted over safety concerns. Ms. Busche has filed complaints with the federal government, alleging she has suffered retaliation since filing her original safety complaint in 2011.
Central to the cleanup is dealing with 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste left from decades of plutonium production for the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The waste is stored in 177 ageing underground tanks, many of which have leaked, threatening the groundwater and the neighbouring Columbia River.
The U.S. Department of Energy is investigating Ms. Busche’s safety concerns, while the US Department of Labour is reviewing her complaints about retaliation and harassment.
URS Corp said in a statement it encourages employees to raise safety concerns.
“We do not agree with her assertions that she suffered retaliation or was otherwise treated unfairly,” URS said, adding Ms. Busche was fired for reasons unrelated to the safety concerns. “Ms. Busche’s allegations will not withstand scrutiny.”
Officials for the Energy Department, which owns Hanford, did not immediately return telephone messages.
A one-of-a-kind plant is being built to convert the waste into glasslike logs for permanent disposal underground, but it has faced numerous technical problems, delays and cost increases.