Nuclear Engineer whistleblower accepts $4.5 million to settle case

A nuclear engineer who was fired by his contractor employer in 2013 after he warned of waste disposal safety risks at the Hanford, Wash., nuclear site agreed to accept a $4.1 million settlement that would end his case.

Walter Tamosaitis, settled with his former employer, San Francisco-based subcontractor URS Inc. (now AECOM), which had fired him him from his post as a manager at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant in 2010.

He and colleague Donna Busche, questioned the company’s long-term process for containing radioactive leaks from World War II-era legacy storage tanks and creating a new process for converting them to glass for safe and permanent storage. Both had testified on Capitol Hill on the rights of whistleblowers as the matter went through the courts, and Tamosaitis had been awaiting a trial next year.

Since World War II, Hanford generated tons of plutonium for nuclear weapons before ceasing production in the late 1980s. That left behind large amounts of contamination, which will take decades to clean up.

Aecom said it resolved the suit “to avoid the cost and distraction of litigation relating to events that occurred over five years ago. The company strongly disagrees that it retaliated against him in any manner.”

Dr. Tamosaitis had been working as an engineer and manager at Hanford on a multi-billion-dollar project to treat millions of gallons of toxic and radioactive liquid waste. That waste is currently being held in scores of aging and sometimes leaking underground storage tanks, according to government reports.

In 2011 testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, Dr. Tamosaitis said he was moved off that project in 2010 “after I continued to raise valid safety and technical concerns.” He was discharged in 2013.

His employer at the time, URS Corp., which was purchased last year by Aecom, denied Dr. Tamosaitis was punished for his safety views and said he was laid off as part of a more general employment reduction due to budget constraints.

Dr. Tamosaitis’s 2011 federal-court lawsuit was initially dismissed by the judge. But last year an appellate-court panel partially reinstated the case. The panel’s decision said Dr. Tamosaitis had “introduced evidence sufficient to create a triable issue as to whether his whistleblowing activity was a contributing factor” in his employment problem.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers. HE does not represent Mr. Tamosaitis.