Friday, April 12, 2013

A New Sheriff Coming to DOE?

On April 9th, the nominee for Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, appeared before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.  Most of the three hour hearing was in a Q&A format, with the committee chairman showing special interest in the major problems at Hanford, viz., leaking waste storage tanks and explosive hydrogen accumulation in same, the Waste Treatment Plant (aka Vit Plant) project and the site safety culture (SC).*

With respect to the SC issue, the nominee said it was “unacceptable” for SC to not be where it needs to be.  In response to a question from the committee chairman, Dr. Moniz said he was willing to meet with Vit Plant whistleblowers.  Depending on the outcome of such a meeting, if it occurs, the new Secretary could send a powerful signal to the Hanford site and beyond about his views on SC, Differing Professional Opinion (and related) practices, a Safety Conscious Work Environment and retaliation against employees who question organizational decisions.

*  The meeting video is available here, Hanford is discussed from about 3:05 to 3:20. 

A letter from the DNFSB chairman provides a good summary of the key issues at Hanford.  See P.S. Winokur (DNFSB) to R.L. Wyden (chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources), letter providing the DNFSB's perspective on the state of nuclear safety at the Hanford Site (April 1, 2013).

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