Walter Tamosaitis says he was removed from a project for raising technical concerns that could affect the safe operation of a plant that will process high-level radioactive waste for disposal.
The Department of Energy is asking that a Hanford whistle-blower lawsuit filed against it be dismissed.
Walter Tamosaitis, the former manager of research and technology at the Hanford vitrification plant, filed a lawsuit in Eastern Washington District U.S. Court in November.
He has alleged since summer 2010 that he was removed from the project for raising technical concerns that could affect the safe operation of the plant, which will process high-level radioactive waste for disposal. His employer, URS, says that is not why he was reassigned and that the change had been planned for some time because Tamosaitis’ assigned work was coming to an end.
DOE has asked that the lawsuit, which names DOE and URS as defendants, be dismissed because DOE does not employ Tamosaitis and the law does not authorize the relief that he is requesting in the lawsuit. DOE has contracted with Bechtel National to build the plant and URS is Bechtel’s prime subcontractor.
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“DOE is dedicated to continual efforts at improving nuclear safety and nuclear safety culture at (the vit plant) and all its facilities,” the Department of Justice said in a legal document. “But DOE’s sincere commitment does not render it subject to suit by individuals it does not employ; nor does its commitment make it subject to remedies not available under law.”
Among other relief sought, Tamosaitis wants a federal judge to order DOE to develop a plan that ensures DOE managers balance the need to meet deadlines with sound science, and to develop procedures to include in contracts to prevent employees from being pressured to take positions not based on scientific principles.
The Energy Reorganization Act, which prohibits retaliation against employees who raise safety concerns, limits protection to employees against retaliatory actions by their employers, according to the Department of Justice.
But DOE did not supervise him, hire him or determine his pay, so is not his employer, the Department of Justice said.
An email from the DOE project director to Bechtel that said an earlier email sent by Tamosaitis could be used to “accelerate staffing changes” does not demonstrate that DOE had supervision of Tamosaitis, the Department of Justice said.
“At most, Tamosaitis has alleged that his employer, URS, transferred him from (the vit plant) because of a suggestion DOE made to Bechtel,” the Department of Justice said.
The email that Tamosaitis sent was incorrect and angered DOE consultants on the project, Bechtel has said. Tamosaitis has said in court documents that he was trying to get others to join him in publicly raising concerns about keeping waste well mixed in the plant to prevent a possible criticality or build up of flammable gas.
The Department of Justice also questions whether Tamosaitis exhausted other legal options as required before filing a case in federal court. Tamosaitis’ attorney has said that the case was filed after the Department of Labor failed to act on Tamosaitis’ complaint after a year, but the Department of Justice said that Tamosaitis requested the complaint be dismissed 10 months after it was filed.