December 21, 2015

Whistleblower of the Year Candidate — Hanford Whistleblower Dr. Walter Tamosaitis

By Marlene Koury

This “Whistleblower Spotlight” features Hanford whistleblower Dr. Walter Tamosaitis, one of our candidates for 2015 Whistleblower of the Year.  Dr. Tamosaitis blew the whistle on shaky clean up plans at Hanford nuclear site in Washington.  He was designing a way to immobilize millions of gallons of toxic and radioactive liquid waste when he discovered the Energy Department’s plans to treat the waste were extremely unsafe.  He discovered that plans to mix the toxic chemicals together in the multi-billion dollar waste treatment plant could start a spontaneous nuclear reaction.

He brought his concerns to his employer, government contractor URS (later acquired by AECOM Technology Corp.), and within a few days – despite spending 44 years at the company – he was removed from his management position at Hanford, escorted off the property, and assigned to a basement office at URS where he was assigned no meaningful work for nearly a year and a half.  He was eventually let go for an alleged “lack of work.”

The company may have tried to silence him, but independent federal safety investigators and senior Energy Department officials listened when he blew the whistle.  After filing a federal lawsuit for retaliation and speaking with government investigators, the Energy Department in 2013 ordered a halt to the construction of two massive processing facilities at Hanford fearing safety concerns over the plant’s design.

Last August, AECOM paid Dr. Walter Tamosaitis $4.1m to settle his retaliation claims.  Dr. Tamosaitis expressed his relief that the ordeal had come to a close, saying “it was something I lived with every minute of every day over the last five years…hopefully, I have sent a message to young engineers to keep their honesty, integrity and courage intact.” A strong message to future whistleblowers from Whistleblower of the Year candidate Dr. Walter Tamosaitis.

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