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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 Whistleblower Case Goes Before Federal Court In Seattle

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

Nuclear engineer Walt Tamosaitis says he was removed from his position because he brought up safety concerns.

Now a three-judge appeals court panel is considering the case of the well-known Hanford Nuclear Reservation whistleblower. Oral arguments happened Thursday.

Tamosaitis argues that he was pressured, demoted and then let go by his employer, a Hanford contractor called URS. This, after he questioned the safety of a massive factory being built to treat nuclear waste at the Hanford site.

In a full courtroom in downtown Seattle, lawyers argued back and forth over the technicalities of the case.

The U.S. Department of Energy said it should be dropped from the lawsuit, saying it isn’t Tamosaitis’ employer, although it manages the Waste Treatment Plant project. Hanford contractor URS says it does not agree that Tamosaitis suffered retaliation.

Tamosaitis’ lawyer counters that the whistleblower has been treated unfairly, and should be able to bring his case to a jury of his peers.

The three judges did not indicate when they would release a decision.