Donna Busche: Hanford Nuke Plant Fires Exec Who Raised Safety Issues

Thursday, 20 Feb 2014 03:27 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Donna Busche, Hanford Nuclear Reservation whistleblower, was fired Tuesday after raising several safety concerns over her now former employer's attempts to construct a $12 billion plant at a location that is widely regarded as the nation's most polluted nuclear weapons production site.

In multiple filings with the federal government, Busche claimed she was being targeted for retaliation by her former employer, URS Corp., after the safety concerns she raised resulted in construction at the plant being halted, The Associated Press reported.

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"I turned in my key and turned in my badge and left the building," Busche told the AP in a telephone interview on Tuesday. Busche, who worked at the plant for nearly five years, added that she had anticipated the firing for the past month.

"Right now I will take a deep breath, file for unemployment and start another lawsuit for wrongful termination," Busche added.

Busche filed her first complaint with the federal government back in 2011.

In response to Busche's claims that she was targeted and eventually fired for bringing attention to safety concerns at the site, URS Corp. released a statement earlier in the week in which it said that all employees are encouraged to raise safety concerns.

"We do not agree with her assertions that she suffered retaliation or was otherwise treated unfairly," URS said, adding Busche was fired for reasons unrelated to the safety concerns. "Ms. Busche's allegations will not withstand scrutiny."

Hanford was created by the federal government in the 1940s as part of the top-secret project to build the atomic bomb. Cleanup at the site costs about $2 billion annually, according to the AP.

The property on which the plant is being built is owned by the federal government and administered by the Department of Energy.

The agency addressed the firing in a news release this week, writing, "the department was not asked to and did not approve this action."

In her AP interview, Busche wouldn't reveal her salary, saying only that she was a "highly compensated executive," who was primarily responsible for ensuring the company's compliance with dangerous waste permits and safety documents.

Busche isn't the first whistleblower at the Hanford site to be fired by URS Corp. in recent months.

In October, Walter Tamosaitis, a 44-year employee of URS Corp., was fired after he too had reportedly raised safety concerns about the plant.

The one-of-a-kind plant is being built to convert the 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste left from decades of plutonium production into glasslike logs that can be permanently disposed underground.

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