‘Whistleblower’ fired from US nuclear site

Whistleblower Donna Busche, who raised safety concerns at the United States’ most polluted nuclear weapons production site, has been fired from her job at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.


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.

Busche, 50, said she was called into the office on Tuesday morning and told she was being fired for cause.

“I turned in my key and turned in my badge and left the building,” Busche said in a telephone interview from Richland.

Busche worked for URS Corp, which is helping build a $US12 billion ($A13.32 billion) plant to turn Hanford’s most dangerous wastes into glass.

Construction of the plant has been halted over safety concerns.

Busche has filed complaints with the federal government, alleging she has suffered retaliation since filing her original safety complaint in 2011.

Hanford was created by the federal US government in the 1940s as part of the top-secret project to build the atomic bomb, and cleanup costs today run about $US2 billion annually.

Central to the cleanup is dealing with 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste left from decades of plutonium production for the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

The waste is stored in 177 aging underground tanks, many of which have leaked, threatening the groundwater and the neighbouring Columbia River.

The US Department of Energy is investigating Busche’s safety concerns, while the US Department of Labor 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 Busche was fired for reasons unrelated to the safety concerns.

“Ms Busche’s allegations will not withstand scrutiny.”

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.

Busche is the second Hanford whistleblower to be fired by URS in recent months.

Walter Tamosaitis, who also raised safety concerns about the plant, was fired in October after 44 years of employment.

Busche, who worked at the plant for nearly five years, said she had been expecting to be fired for the past month.

“Right now I will take a deep breath, file for unemployment and start another lawsuit for wrongful termination,” Busche said.

She declined to reveal her salary but called herself a “highly compensated executive”.

Busche was a manager of environmental and nuclear safety at the waste treatment plant construction site, and her primary job was ensuring compliance with dangerous waste permits and safety documents.

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