A nuclear engineering expert testified in the Department of Justice case that resulted in the recent $125M settlement against contractors Bechtel National and AECO. In 2013, whistleblowers who were managers at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington State brought allegations of nuclear quality violations and misuse of taxpayers’ money.
Since 2002, the Department of Energy has paid billions of dollars to Bechtel and AECOM to build the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant. HanfordVit.com tells us that the project was designed to treat 56M gallons of waste which are a byproduct of national defense plutonium-production during World War II and the Cold War era. “It resides in 177 aging underground tanks. Of these, more than 60 have leaked, contaminating the subsurface and threatening the nearby Columbia River.” Plutonium for nuclear weapons was produced for decades at the Hanford Site location which is now considered the most contaminated nuclear site in the US. The Columbia River travels from British Columbia, Canada, to the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon.
The November 23, 2016, DOJ press release United States Settles Lawsuit Against Energy Department Contractors for Knowingly Mischarging Costs on Contract at Nuclear Waste Treatment Plant states:
Between 2002 and the present, DOE has paid billions of dollars to the defendants to design and build the WTP, which will be used to treat dangerous radioactive wastes that are currently stored at DOE’s Hanford Site. The contract required materials, testing and services to meet certain nuclear quality standards. The United States alleged that the defendants violated the False Claims Act by charging the government the cost of complying with these standards when they failed to do so. In particular, the United States alleged that the defendants improperly billed the government for materials and services from vendors that did not meet quality control requirements, for piping and waste vessels that did not meet quality standards and for testing from vendors who did not have compliant quality programs. The United States also alleged that Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. improperly claimed and received government funding for lobbying activities in violation of the Byrd Amendment, and applicable contractual and regulatory requirements, all of which prohibit the use of federal funds for lobbying activities.
The allegations resolved by this settlement were initially brought in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act by Gary Brunson, Donna Busche, and Walter Tamosaitis, who worked on the WTP project. The False Claims Act permits private parties to sue on behalf of the United States when they believe that a party has submitted false claims for government funds, and to receive a share of any recovery. The Act also permits the government to intervene in such a lawsuit, as it did in part in this case. The whistleblowers’ reward has not yet been determined.
A nuclear engineering expert consulted and testified in the case regarding radioactive safety violations. These experts are qualified to investigate and opine on the mechanical components of power plants and whether proper procedures have been followed in order to adhere to the codes and compliance required in the energy industry. Nuclear engineering expert witnesses provide essential testimony to determine whether proper handling of radiation and other hazardous elements and materials has been violated.