Hanford employees told to 'reach out' with safety concerns

Jul 4, 2011

RICHLAND, Wash. – The U.S. Department of Energy says it doesn't agree with the finding that the safety culture at Hanford is "flawed." Even so, the department says that it's working to make improvements at the waste treatment plant under construction in southeast Washington.

That's the upshot of a letter released Friday after a federal nuclear watchdog raised questions about Hanford’s massive plant.

The letter from Energy Secretary Steven Chu outlines steps the agency is taking to improve its safety culture. That list includes town hall-style meetings with employees and contractors, ombudsmen and increased reporting measures.

Deputy Secretary Dan Poneman says he'll personally watch over efforts to improve the safety culture at Hanford. And he has this message for workers who have safety concerns:

"They should feel free to contact anyone, to reach out to us directly and we would assure them that they would do so without any risk of retribution or any kind of consequence," Poneman said.

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Chairman Peter Winokur points out the Energy Department is trying to obtain confidential records from the board's investigation. He says that could make workers fear they might face retaliation for raising concerns.

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