SPOKANE — Oregon Senator Ron Wyden on Wednesday demanded to know why a Hanford Nuclear Reservation whistleblower has lost his job.
Walter Tamosaitis last week was laid off by URS Corp. after 44 years of employment.
Wyden, a Democrat, sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz saying that little appears to have changed in the protection of whistleblowers at Hanford. He says this incident shows that people who raise safety concerns continue to face retaliation.
“It is hard to see how his termination could do anything but discourage employees at Hanford and throughout the (nuclear weapons) complex from coming forward with health or safety concerns,” Wyden wrote.
URS, a private contractor, said in a news release that the layoff was prompted by its budget.
“While we will not comment on specific matters, in recent months URS has reduced employment levels in our federal sector business due to budgetary constraints,” the company said. “URS encourages its employees to raise any concerns about safety, which remains the company’s highest priority.”
Tamosaitis in 2010 was removed from his job as a manager at the construction of the $12.3 billion Waste Treatment Plant after raising safety concerns, and later sued over the demotion. But he continued to work at URS, in a job which Wyden described as “a basement cubicle in Richland with no meaningful work.”
Tamosaitis contended he was dismissed from the treatment plant project for raising numerous concerns about the future safe operations of the plant.
Wyden also complained that in order to receive severance pay from URS after being laid off, Tamosaitis must sign a document releasing URS from any liability. But he has appeals pending after lawsuits against URS and the U.S. Department of Energy were dismissed before going to trial.
His case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to be heard Nov. 7, Wyden wrote.
Hanford is located near the Tri-Cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco in southcentral Washington. The site for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons, and now contains the nation’s largest volume of radioactive waste. The troubled Waste Treatment Plant is intended to convert some of those wastes into glass for long-term storage.