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A Hanford nuclear-reservation contractor has been ordered to reinstate a worker the U.S. Department of Labor says was fired for voicing concerns about nuclear and environmental safety, officials said Wednesday.

Richland-based Washington River Protection Solutions, a subsidiary of URS Corp. and Energy Solutions, was also ordered to pay $220,000 in back wages and other expenses.

The Labor Department said the contractor violated federal whistle-blower provisions. The worker first blew the whistle on nuclear and environmental safety and permit and record-keeping violations in 2009, according to the Labor Department. The worker was fired two years later and reapplied for the job in 2012. The Richland company refused to rehire the environmental specialist, even though the employee had the qualifications for the job, according to federal officials. The reason given for the initial firing was “poor performance.”

Washington River Protection Solutions, with more than 1,600 employees at Hanford, is responsible for safely managing about 56 million gallons of high-level radioactive and chemical waste stored in 177 underground tanks at Hanford. The waste is left over from plutonium produced at Hanford between 1943 until about 1987.

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“The people most able to identify hazards are often the workers who are threatened by them,” said Galen Lemke, the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration acting regional administrator. “Employees must never be punished for sounding an alarm when they see a problem that could injure, sicken or kill someone, or harm the environment.”

Washington River Protection Solutions also must remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record. And the company is required to post a “Your Rights Under the Energy Reorganization Act” poster and provide whistle-blower-rights information to employees.

Washington River Protection Solutions said Wednesday that the employee was not fired for voicing safety concerns, but as part of 200 layoffs undertaken to “align employment levels with project work scope and federal funding.

The company is reviewing the Labor Department’s order and has not decided whether it will appeal before an administrative-law judge.

“Each (Washington River Protection Solutions) employee is empowered and encouraged to raise safety or other workplace concerns,” the company stated.

The Labor Department did not name the employee, citing its policy on whistle-blower cases.

Material from the Tri-City Herald was included in this report.

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