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00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d430000The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington was home to Native Americans and later to settlers. It turned into an top-secret military workhorse during World War II and the Cold War. Now, it’s one of the most pressing and complex environmental cleanup challenges humanity is facing in the world.This remote area in southeast Washington is where the federal government made plutonium for bombs during WWII and the Cold War. It’s now home to some of the most toxic contamination on earth, a witch’s brew of chemicals, radioactive waste and defunct structures. In central Hanford, leaking underground tanks full of radioactive sludge await a permanent solution. Meanwhile, a massive $12 billion waste treatment plant, designed to bind up that tank waste into more stable glass logs, has a troubled history.00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d440000Anna King is public radio's correspondent in Richland, Washington, covering the seemingly endless complexities of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Former Hanford Workers Claim Dangerous Pranks, Falsified Reports

Anna King, Northwest News Network
Walt Ford, right, at a U.S. Department of Labor hearing in Kennewick, Washington, Tuesday.

Several former Hanford construction workers testified in a U.S. Department of Labor hearing in Kennewick Tuesday, saying managers at the nuclear site played dangerous pranks that ended in workers with bloodied fingers, an injured knee, a hurt arm and glue smeared across the face. 

The huge under-construction Hanford Waste Treatment Plant is intended to treat millions of gallons of radioactive waste. Several construction workers -- who set up and maintain large cranes, cables and other important machinery – say they’ve been bullied at that job site.

Attorneys for the contractors will have the chance to lay out their side this week.

Walt Ford, who was laid off in 2011, is asking for lost wages and emotional damages from Hanford contractors Bechtel and URS. Ford claims he was laid off because he was raising safety concerns with managers and that he hasn’t been able to get other work, after being labeled as a whistleblower.

Another millwright construction worker testified he saw a manager falsifying a set of important work reports and was tripped by a manager, hurting his knee while at work.

All three millwrights who testified Tuesday said when they were working they felt that if they raised safety concerns through Hanford’s established non-retaliatory reporting programs they would be targeted for pranks and management retaliation anyway.

Other URS employees have come forward with safety concerns at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant too--most notably Walter Tamosaitis, who was a high-level safety manager for URS on the Waste Treatment Plant.

Tamosaitis claimed there were design problems with major radioactive waste mixing vessels installed at the plant and that faulty design could cause explosions. Several of his claims have been investigated by the U.S. Department of Energy at the highest levels. Since then, technical issues with the plant have slowed construction and altered the design for the overall plant. Tamosaitis ultimately settled his case last year for $4.1 million.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.