August 31, 2020

Allegations Regarding the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant at the Hanford Site

The Department of Energy’s mission at the Hanford Site (Hanford) is environmental cleanup, as Hanford produced two-thirds of the Nation’s plutonium during World War II and The Cold War.  In May 1989, the Department, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the State of Washington Department of Ecology signed the landmark Hanford Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order, commonly known as the Tri-Party Agreement.  The Tri-Party Agreement outlines legally enforceable milestones for Hanford cleanup over the next several decades.

In support of the Department’s mission at Hanford, two Federal offices oversee the Department’s mission: Richland Operations Office and the Office of River Protection.  Richland Operations Office is responsible for nuclear waste and facility cleanup, and overall management of Hanford.  The Office of River Protection is responsible for cleanup of Hanford tank waste.  This includes the retrieval and treatment of Hanford’s tank waste and closure of Tank Farms to protect the Columbia River.  To address the environmental risk posed by the radioactive waste stored at Tank Farms, the Department is constructing a treatment facility called the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.  The Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant’s mission is to treat the 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical wastes into a stable glass form for permanent disposal.

On April 30, 2019, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel referred a whistleblower disclosure to the Secretary of Energy (OSC File No. DI-15-3042).  The Secretary referred the issue to the Office of Inspector General for evaluation.  In the disclosure, the complainant alleged misconduct related to the Department’s management of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant at Hanford.  We substantiated three allegations with qualifications and did not substantiate the other five allegations.  While we confirmed some specific details included in the allegations, we did not make any formal recommendations.  Due to the nature of the disclosure, the Office of Inspector General did not publicly release the report until advised by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in March 2023.