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Whistleblower and Worker Rights at the Hanford Nuclear Site, Tom Carpenter
Whistleblower and Worker Rights at the Hanford Nuclear Site, Tom Carpenter
WhenFriday, Jan 17, 2020, 12:30 – 2 p.m.
Campus locationSmith Hall (SMI)
Campus room306
Event typesAcademics, Information Sessions, Lectures/Seminars
Event sponsorsThe Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies

The Harry Bridges Center is excited to invite Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge for a Labor Studies Workshare of his paper titled, "Whistleblower and Worker Rights at the Hanford Nuclear Site." 

About: The Labor Studies Workshare features UW faculty and graduate students presenting works-in-progress on labor-related topics for feedback from an interdisciplinary audience of labor scholars from across campus. Workshares are held over the lunch hour and attendees are invited to bring their lunches.

Format: Workshare papers are circulated to registered attendees a week in advance of the workshare. Participants are expected to have read the paper before the meeting and be prepared for a discussion. To register, e-mail

For more information on future Labor Studies workshares, please click here

Abstract: This paper explores two aspects of worker rights at the Hanford nuclear site. The first discussion focuses on the rights, and the empowerment, of employees to make protected disclosures about safety, health and environmental concerns, as well as fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.

The second is the fundamental right for Hanford workers to receive compensation and medical care under Washington State’s worker compensation program due to illness and/or injury as a result of working at the nation’s most-contaminated facility.

The Hanford Nuclear Site was established in 1943 under the Manhattan Project to create enriched plutonium for U.S. nuclear weapons with utmost speed and secrecy—an approach that left little room for safety or accountability. Hanford produced plutonium until 1986. Cleanup, started in 1989 by the Department of Energy, will continue at least until 2070.

Today, the 586-square mile Hanford Nuclear Reservation is the most contaminated site in the Western hemisphere. It threatens the environment, and the lives and health of the 9,000 people working on the cleanup, and more than a million people who live downwind from Hanford and downstream along the Columbia River basin.

The Hanford nuclear site is undergoing an extremely complicated and expensive cleanup that promises to take decades to complete and taxpayer costs in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Despite the large infusions of federal dollars, the cleanup is not going well. It is way beyond the original schedules and price tags that were originally estimated and agreed to at the start of the cleanup in 1989. Numerous fraud cases have been brought against contractors, resulting in convictions, plea agreements, and settlements ranging to the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Workers continue to suffer exposures to radioactive and chemical substances in various forms. Future exposures are practically a guarantee.

Whistleblowers bring about meaningful policy changes, avert potential disasters, and help battle corruption and fraud. Advocates who decide to work with insiders can best serve them by assisting them in finding venues to appropriately voice their concerns while protecting them from attacks. Workers who are injured or sickened from toxic exposures deserve compensation and medical care.

Progress is being made on both fronts, although clearly a systemic reorganization of the cleanup is required to forge a better direction for the cleanup in the long run. A healthy, empowered and well-trained workforce is key to a successful cleanup.

About the Speaker: Tom Carpenter is Executive Director of Hanford Challenge. Carpenter brings decades of experience in organizing, litigating, and policy oversight in the nuclear field, much of it devoted to Hanford. He is an attorney, a graduate of Antioch School of Law, and has a Masters in Organizational Design and Renewal from Seattle University.

Tom worked as the Director of the Nuclear Oversight Campaign for the Government Accountability Project from 1985 to 2007. He founded Cincinnati Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE) and served on the Cincinnati Mayor’s Environmental Advisory Council.

Through his work at GAP and Hanford Challenge, Tom has visited dozens of nuclear sites in the U.S. and Russia and hosted many international conferences.

Tom has represented numerous whistleblowers at various nuclear sites around the nation, including at commercial and military nuclear production facilities, such as Hanford, Los Alamos, Knolls Atomic Power Lab, Pantex, Lawrence Livermore, Fernald, Mound, and others. He has authored numerous reports and articles on the effects of nuclear production on workforce health and safety and the environment, and established environmental sampling programs at Hanford, Los Alamos, and Russian nuclear sites.

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