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Hanford safety board reacts to energy secretary Chu’s letter

RICHLAND, Wash. – The U.S. Department of Energy says it believes its safety culture at Hanford is “strong.” But the agency said in letter Friday it’s also working to make improvements. The letter is a response to criticism from a federal nuclear watchdog that called Energy’s safety culture at Hanford’s waste treatment plant “flawed.”

Energy Secretary Steven Chu says his agency has already begun making it easier for workers to raise safety concerns. Department managers will also organize town hall-style meetings that focus on safety at Hanford. The chair of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, Peter Winokur , says those are good steps.

Peter Winokur: “But I think the disagreement right now is that the Board believes there is a failed safety culture at the Waste Treatment Plant, while the department believes that the safety culture is good. Everyone agrees that it needs to be improved, but there is a disagreement about the present status of that safety culture.”

The Board’s investigation began when a high-level manager on the treatment plant project was demoted last July shortly after raising concerns about the plant.

Copyright 2010 Northwest Public Radio

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.