U.S. Nuclear Contractors Underreporting Worker Injuries

Government contractors have underreported injuries and illnesses at Hanford Nuclear Reservation and other nuclear cleanup projects for years, creating a false image of safety for their own enrichment, according to a new federal audit. The Department of Energy, responsible for overseeing cleanups at the Hanford site in southern Washington state and other sites around the U.S., has used flawed data to assess safety programs, identify safety issues and trends, and determine how much to pay some large contractors, as some portion of payment can be tied to safety records. The audit, performed by the DOE’s inspector general, found that even when mistakes were discovered they were not always corrected, and pointed to serious “weaknesses in the department’s quality-assurance process.” Watchdog groups have long alleged safety problems at Hanford, the nation’s largest nuclear cleanup site, saying that contractors have played down danger to workers from gases seeping from storage tanks. “We’re convinced that this audit report simply scratches the surface,” said Tom Carpenter of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project.