DOE Poneman's letter to Hanford employees

Jun 21, 2011

To the EM community - 

The safety of the DOE workforce and the communities around our facilities is of the utmost importance to Secretary Chu and is something that requires constant vigilance.  As he says regularly, "We must always be looking for ways to strengthen our approach to safety and foster a questioning attitude at each of our sites."   

The Secretary and I both believe fundamentally that our people are our greatest asset.  We are deeply appreciative of the dedication, commitment, and passion you bring to your jobs every day as you work to solve some of the world's greatest environmental challenges.

Nuclear safety is essential to the success of our mission and must be at the heart of all of our efforts.  The Secretary and I view our responsibility to assure the safety of our Complex as a solemn pledge to our federal and contractor employees and to the American people.   

This week the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) released a recommendation on the safety culture at Hanford's Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), so I'd like to address that project specifically.

Working closely with EM and the Office of River Protection, Secretary Chu and I have been deeply and personally engaged in overseeing the WTP project and doing all that we can to assure that it is built safely and effectively.  We have witnessed significant progress at WTP over the last year as the project, which is now over 60 percent complete, successfully pivoted from a design-construct approach to a construct-commission approach.

The Secretary and I were very concerned when allegations were initially raised about the safety culture on the project, which is why two independent offices within DOE - the Office of the General Counsel and the Office of Health, Safety and Security (HSS) - each conducted a thorough, professional investigation to review aspects of the allegations.  

The Office of the General Counsel examined specific concerns raised by the Defense Board following its October 2010 hearing and concluded that neither DOE nor contractor employees had acted inappropriately.  In its review, HSS noted that the framework is in place for a strong nuclear safety culture at WTP, but also noted that there are areas for improvement.  The Secretary and I will continue to work closely with the project to make sure those improvements are being made. 

We are currently reviewing the Defense Board's Recommendation and will be responding in the coming weeks to clarify the record on the facts asserted and respond to the Recommendation itself.  We expect that our response will also detail specific areas where our own investigations identify inaccuracies in the Board's report.

 If you have any concerns related to the DNFSB Recommendation or any other safety-related matter, Secretary Chu and I encourage you to reach out.  There are a number of venues and offices that can work with you, including your management; your employee concerns program; EM's Office of Safety and Security Program; the Department's Chief of Nuclear Safety, Richard Lagdon, who reports directly to me; and the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security. 

Information on how to contact these offices is available at www.em.doe.gov/pages/safetyconcerns.aspx.  We can assure you that we will respect any request for confidentiality, and that no adverse reaction to any expression of concern or complaint will be tolerated.

I want to thank each of you for your dedication to achieving our mission and for your continued service to the country.  

Sincerely, 

Daniel Poneman

Deputy Secretary of Energy