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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.

Hanford Whistleblowers: Senate Hearing Forces Few Answers Into The Open

US Senate
File photo of Hanford whistlerblower Walt Tamosaitis testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight in 2011.

In Washington, D.C. Tuesday, Hanford whistleblowers Donna Busche and Walt Tamosaitis weren’t allowed to speak before a Senate hearing.

The former nuclear site workers had been informally invited to testify before the Homeland Security subcommittee, but that invitation was later blocked by the ranking minority Republican on the committee.

Busche and Tamosaitis both worked on the large waste treatment plant being built in southeast Washington.

Tom Carpenter, from the Seattle-based watchdog group Hanford Challenge, says the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractors at Hanford don’t have a functioning process for employees to bring up safety concerns.

“They all believe in the ability for workers to come forward with concerns," he says. "They just don’t have any processes that work, right? And whistleblowers get fired and no one does anything about it.”

URS, the government contractor that formerly employed Busche and Tamosaitis, said in a written statement that the employees weren’t wrongfully fired. It also says it continues to encourage employees to raise any safety concerns at Hanford.

Also at Hanford, the Washington State Department of Ecology criticized the federal Department of Energy for no clear plan to pump out a leaking double-shell tank of waste. The state says the federal government’s plan is incomplete, would take too long and is lacking key technical details.

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.