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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.

Study: Energy Department Has More Work To Do On Safety Culture

Hanford Nuclear Reservation
US Department of Energy

RICHLAND, Wash. – The U.S. Department of Energy still has work to do to improve its own safety culture. That’s the upshot of a recent study on the federal agency that heads environmental cleanup of nuclear waste across the country, including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington.

After repeated criticism by major government watchdogs, the Department of Energy conducted its own study to examine safety culture within its ranks. Hanford has been under particular scrutiny after several top-level whistleblowers questioned a $12 billion radioactive waste treatment plant being constructed now in Washington’s desert.

Although the Energy department has been on a major campaign to improve its safety culture, the study found that most employees thought that term meant narrowly: industrial safety. The report says “… a poor sense of ownership and accountability for safety is problematic.”

The study also says, “Some senior managers indicated they do not perceive that they have any direct responsibilities for safety …” Others told researchers that they fear retaliation if they raise safety concerns.

On the Web:

Safety culture study

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio

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.