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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.

New U.S. Bill Would Further Protect Hanford Whistleblowers

Anna King
Northwest News Network
File photo of Walter Tamosaitis, a high-level whistleblower at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

A new federal bill was introduced Monday that would further protect whistleblowers at Hanford and other nuclear sites. The legislation was penned by thee Democratic senators: Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

The high-profile Hanford whistleblower Walt Tamosaitis said when you take on the federal government there’s a huge learning curve. And it’s often one person against the entire nation’s taxpayer coffers. Tamosaitis was fired after he brought up concerning safety issues at Hanford’s waste treatment plant.

This new Senate bill would seek to even the playing field for whistleblowers like Tamosaitis a bit.

It would give whistleblowers more time to bring their cases forward. They currently have six months, but that would extend to a year.

Also, government contractors would be on the hook to pay for these whistleblower cases -- unless the U.S. Department of Energy was somehow responsible.

In addition, it would broaden the definition of a whistleblower to someone who has fraud, waste or abuse to report. Right now federally-protected whistleblowers can only file complaints about safety issues.

Tamosaitis settled with his former employer federal contractor URS in 2015 for about $4 million. The DOE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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.