Nuclear secrets: The ex-Westinghouse employee accused of helping a foreign power Power Source By Anya Litvak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette September 15, 2016 Following the arrest of Allen Ho this spring, FBI agents appeared on the doorsteps of nuclear scientists across the United States.
In Murrysville, they met with Charles Beard, a retired Westinghouse Electric Co. software engineer who first connected with Mr. Ho in the 1980s when both men worked for that company. In 2011, Mr. Ho had approached Mr. Beard to consult for his Delaware-based firm Energy Technology International, according to documents in the case.
Mr. Beard had just retired and wasn’t sure it was worth it. He quoted an hourly rate so high it was intended to repel the advances, Mr. Beard told the FBI. But Mr. Ho agreed to the money, and so did Mr. Beard.
And thus he became part of a group of consultants — retired nuclear specialists, many from Cranberry-based Westinghouse — that Mr. Ho assembled on behalf of the China General Nuclear Power Corp. (CGN), one of several state-owned nuclear firms in one of the world’s largest commercial nuclear markets.
The consulting team was to “provide technology transfer in design, manufacturing, related training and technical support,” Mr. Ho wrote in an e-mail later obtained by the FBI. “They said budget is no issue.”
Since mid-April, Mr. Ho, 66, has been in jail in Tennessee awaiting a trial in which he faces a potential life sentence for violating a 60-year statute that has never before been tested in court. He spends 23 hours in a cell, in solitary confinement, according to his attorney.
In its case, the government has said that Mr. Ho’s consulting services amount to nuclear espionage and that he was acting as a foreign agent when he recruited nuclear scientists to educate China’s nuclear engineers on aspects of commercial reactors.
Mr. Ho, and one of his former consultants Ching Ning Guey whose plea deal last year helped the government build a case, are the first people to be charged under a statute of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 that says people who help make special nuclear material outside of the U.S. have to ask the Secretary of Energy for permission.
They are the only two people that have been charged in this case.
The “special nuclear material” in question is plutonium — a byproduct of the nuclear reaction that takes place inside commercial power plants. By helping a Chinese company with its operations, Mr. Ho was involved in making plutonium, the government said.
Last month, despite a slew of character letters from friends, some of which pledged their homes as collateral, Mr. Ho was denied bail.
Even if he were stripped of his U.S. and Chinese passports, and outfitted with a tracking anklet that confined him to his home, Chinese operatives might shepherd him out of the country, prosecutors warned. They cited his expensive house in Delaware, an apartment in China and a child he fathered there nine years ago………
Mr. Ho had, in fact, applied for the special authorization required by the Atomic Energy Act.
In 2013, he sent two letters to the U.S. Department of Energy describing his activities in China. One said he and his consultants were engaged in IT support work, such as converting code from one language to another and updating it with more recent fission and heat transfer models.
In less than two months, the energy agency replied to Mr. Ho that these activities don’t need special permission……..
The government’s argument on the dangers of Mr. Ho’s actions follow two paths. On the one hand, the FBI has alleged Mr. Ho was selling commercial secrets, violating intellectual property protections and helping Chinese companies get ahead by bypassing the expense and time of research and development.
On the other hand, the government and the FBI agents that conducted the interviews with Mr. Ho’s consultants have sprinkled in questions about possible security concerns, given that the plutonium produced at commercial nuclear power plants can be used for military purposes.“Our idea of how China works, is that at the end of the day, whatever’s good for commercial is also good for military,” the federal agent told Mr. Ho after his arrest.
That dynamic is the focus of the Atomic Energy Act, a law passed in 1954 that guides how the U.S. balances the promotion of nuclear trade in the electric sector with the goal of keeping nuclear proliferation at bay.
There are 50 countries for which a special authorization is not required. For all others — including China — activities ranging from document transfers and e-mails to the “transfer of knowledge and expertise” in the area of nuclear reactors call for special permission from the Secretary of Energy.
George Rudy, who consulted for Mr. Ho, told an FBI agent on April 15 that Mr. Ho didn’t seem to understand the logic behind the authorization rules. “He felt that the requirements were the NSA and DOE trying to impede his progress,” Mr. Rudy told the FBI.
A 2014 Government Accountability Office report looking at how the Department of Energy handles the special authorization statute found that U.S. nuclear firms and the Nuclear Energy Institute commonly felt the requirements and the long approval times put U.S. firms and the interest of commercial nuclear development at a disadvantage to suppliers in other countries.
It’s OK for Westinghouse………
China’s nuclear ambitions are second to none. It is gobbling up Western nuclear technology and expertise, and developing its own in service of an aggressive plan to build dozens of reactors in the next decade.
“This whole thing doesn’t make any sense, because Westinghouse sold AP1000 reactors to China along with all of their proprietary information,” Mr. Rombough said this month. “If doing nuclear reactors in China is so off limits, why did they allow Westinghouse to do that?”
David Seel, another retired Westinghouse engineer, told FBI agents in April that his concerns “were mitigated by the assumption (Westinghouse’s) presence in China and AP1000-related business dealings illustrated consulting such as his was not prohibited.”………
While he declined to speak about Mr. Ho’s case in detail, Mr. Zeidenburg said it “falls into a long and depressing line of cases where the Department of Justice has arrested a Chinese-American first and asked questions later.”
In court filings, he has argued that the government — unable to find an espionage statute that sticks — has tried to “shoehorn” Mr. Ho’s legitimate commercial work into a statute that has never been tested in court.
Mr. Ho’s trial is scheduled to begin in January.
Anya Litvak: email@example.com or 412-263-1455.http://powersource.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2016/09/15/Nuclear-secrets-The-ex-Westinghouse-employee-accused-of-helping-a-foreign-power/stories/201609140193
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/268/169/575/protect-freedom-of-the-press-drop-arrest-warrant-for-amy-goodman/ By: Kelsey Bourgeois Target: North Dakota police
She was doing her job of reporting what was happening, which was security guards pepper spraying protectors and forcing attack dogs to bite protectors that didn’t pose a threat. Obviously, this is intimidation of the freedom of the press.
The pipeline threatens water supplies, sacred Native American sites, and the environment broadly and the amazing Native Americans and allies standing up against it deserve fair coverage from the press. The authorities want this pipeline so badly that they are willing to cover up reporting on misconduct at the construction site.
“This is an unacceptable violation of freedom of the press,” said Amy Goodman in a statement. “I was doing my job by covering pipeline guards unleashing dogs and pepper spray on Native American protesters.” Amy Goodman is an award-winning journalist.
This warrant sets a horrifying precedent. It restricts the freedom of the press, a constitutional right that our society requires to thrive. We demand this warrant be dropped immediately. The reporting Amy Goodman and Democracy Now did that day is crucial and we cannot allow them to silence it.
Nuclear scientists push for freedom to express views without fear of reprisals http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/nuclear-scientists-push-for-freedom-to-express-views-without-fear-of-reprisals/article31219139/ GLORIA GALLOWAYOTTAWA — The Globe and Mail, Aug. 01, 2016 Scientists working for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission have asked their union to negotiate a policy on scientific integrity that would allow them to express their views about nuclear-safety issues without fear of reprisals from management.
The unionized professional employees at the nuclear regulator and two nuclear research facilities – Chalk River in Ontario and Whiteshell in Manitoba – have been negotiating a new contract for the past three years, a process that was significantly delayed as a result of last year’s federal election.
The labour talks have continued as the two reactors are gradually being decommissioned.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), the union that represents them, says the aim is to secure scientific integrity in the workplace. Allowing more freedom for government scientists to speak to the public and the media has been a central theme of the PIPSC’s negotiations with many government departments.
“When our members fight for scientific integrity to be in the collective agreement, they’re not just fighting for their own right as regulatory scientists, they’re also fighting for the rights of every Canadian to live in safety,” Debi Daviau, president of PIPSC.
“The situation with specialists at the nuclear regulator is a clear case of that,” she said. “After a decade of disregard for the advice of public service professionals, we want to see real change reflected in our collective agreements.”
The effort to free the CNSC’s scientific staff to voice concerns comes as the regulator investigates allegations contained in an anonymous letter, purportedly written by employees at the nuclear regulator, that says information was withheld from commissioners while they were making critical decisions about the licensing of this country’s nuclear plants.
The letter, which was sent several weeks ago to CNSC president Michael Binder, points to five separate cases in which the commission’s staff sat on relevant material about risk or non-compliance that might have called the safety of a plant into question.
Environmental groups have complained for many years that the CNSC acts more as a booster for nuclear energy than as a watchdog for public safety. In response to the union’s demands, the CNSC created a working group, composed largely of managers, to develop ways to resolve scientific or regulatory disagreements, to establish the rules for publishing research and to discuss the scope of a potential policy on scientific integrity.
A document, obtained under Access to Information by the environmental group Greenpeace, says one of the aims of that working group is to “provide mechanisms for staff to express dissenting views without fear of reprisal in a respectful environment.”
That document says the CNSC would benefit from having a science policy and recommends the creation of a science adviser position to ensure compliance with that policy.
The CNSC said in an e-mail that its staff have always had scientific freedom to publish their research, that healthy debate is encouraged, that a formal process for resolving differences of professional opinion already exists and that whistle blowers can raise concerns anonymously.
But the union says CNSC scientists are extremely fearful of the repercussions they might face for speaking out. Although management is open to creating its own internal policy around scientific integrity, the union says it wants to the policy written into the collective agreement to ensure that its members are protected.
The Saudi Cables. Cables and other documents from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Foreign Affairs https://wikileaks.org/saudi-cables/buying-silence
A total of 122619 published so far
Buying Silence: How the Saudi Foreign Ministry controls Arab media
On Monday, Saudi Arabia celebrated the beheading of its 100th prisoner this year. The story was nowhere to be seen on Arab media despite the story’s circulation on wire services. Even international media was relatively mute about this milestone compared to what it might have been if it had concerned a different country. How does a story like this go unnoticed?
Today’s release of the WikiLeaks “Saudi Cables” from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs show how it’s done.
The oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its ruling family take a systematic approach to maintaining the country’s positive image on the international stage. Most world governments engage in PR campaigns to fend off criticism and build relations in influential places. Saudi Arabia controls its image by monitoring media and buying loyalties from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between.
Documents reveal the extensive efforts to monitor and co-opt Arab media, making sure to correct any deviations in regional coverage of Saudi Arabia and Saudi-related matters. Saudi Arabia’s strategy for co-opting Arab media takes two forms, corresponding to the “carrot and stick” approach, referred to in the documents as “neutralisation” and “containment”. The approach is customised depending on the market and the media in question.
“Contain” and “Neutralise”
The initial reaction to any negative coverage in the regional media is to “neutralise” it. The term is used frequently in the cables and it pertains to individual journalists and media institutions whose silence and co-operation has been bought. “Neutralised” journalists and media institutions are not expected to praise and defend the Kingdom, only to refrain from publishing news that reflects negatively on the Kingdom, or any criticism of its policies. The “containment” approach is used when a more active propaganda effort is required. Journalists and media institutions relied upon for “containment” are expected not only to sing the Kingdom’s praises, but to lead attacks on any party that dares to air criticisms of the powerful Gulf state.
One of the ways “neutralisation” and “containment” are ensured is by purchasing hundreds or thousands of subscriptions in targeted publications. These publications are then expected to return the favour by becoming an “asset” in the Kingdom’s propaganda strategy. A document listing the subscriptions that needed renewal by 1 January 2010 details a series of contributory sums meant for two dozen publications in Damascus, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Kuwait, Amman and Nouakchott. The sums range from $500 to 9,750 Kuwaiti Dinars ($33,000). The Kingdom effectively buys reverse “shares” in the media outlets, where the cash “dividends” flow the opposite way, from the shareholder to the media outlet. In return Saudi Arabia gets political “dividends” – an obliging press.
An example of these co-optive practices in action can be seen in an exchange between the Saudi Foreign Ministry and its Embassy in Cairo. On 24 November 2011 Egypt’s Arabic-language broadcast station ONTV hosted the Saudi opposition figure Saad al-Faqih, which prompted the Foreign Ministry to task the embassy with inquiring into the channel. The Ministry asked the embassy to find out how “to co-opt it or else we must consider it standing in the line opposed to the Kingdom’s policies“.
The document reports that the billionaire owner of the station, Naguib Sawiris, did not want to be “opposed to the Kingdom’s policies” and that he scolded the channel director, asking him “never to host al-Faqih again”. He also asked the Ambassador if he’d like to be “a guest on the show”.
The Saudi Cables are rife with similar examples, some detailing the figures and the methods of payment. These range from small but vital sums of around $2000/year to developing country media outlets – a figure the Guinean News Agency “urgently needs” as “it would solve many problems that the agency is facing” – to millions of dollars, as in the case of Lebanese right-wing television station MTV.
The “neutralisation” and “containment” approaches are not the only techniques the Saudi Ministry is willing to employ. In cases where “containment” fails to produce the desired effect, the Kingdom moves on to confrontation. In one example, the Foreign Minister was following a Royal Decree dated 20 January 2010 to remove Iran’s new Arabic-language news network, Al-Alam, from the main Riyadh-based regional communications satellite operator, Arabsat. After the plan failed, Saud Al Faisal sought to “weaken its broadcast signal“.
The documents show concerns within the Saudi administration over the social upheavals of 2011, which became known in the international media as the “Arab Spring”. The cables note with concern that after the fall of Mubarak, coverage of the upheavals in Egyptian media was “being driven by public opinion instead of driving public opinion”. The Ministry resolved “to give financial support to influential media institutions in Tunisia“, the birthplace of the “Arab Spring”.
The cables reveal that the government employs a different approach for its own domestic media. There, a wave of the Royal hand is all that is required to adjust the output of state-controlled media. A complaint from former Lebanese Prime Minister and Saudi citizen Saad Hariri concerning articles critical of him in the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat newspapers prompted a directive to “stop these type of articles” from the Foreign Ministry.
This is a general overview of the Saudi Foreign Ministry’s strategy in dealing with the media. WikiLeaks’ Saudi Cables contain numerous other examples that form an indictment of both the Kingdom and the state of the media globally.
Canadian nuclear boss jokes about whistleblowers and muzzles environmentalist, By Mike De Souza, National Observer August 18th 2016 Shawn-Patrick Stensil shook his head in disbelief as he walked out of a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission public meeting on Thursday.
The commission also declined to review Stensil’s 26-page analysis of the safety issues raised in the anonymous letter.
“I’ve never been shut down before like that by the commission,” said Stensil in an interview withNational Observer after his brief appearance at the meeting.
Stensil is a senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada, who has researched nuclear safety policy issues for more than a decade and testifies frequently before federal panels about the issue.
The commission is an independent federal regulator that is responsible for overseeing the Canadian nuclear industry. In other words, it is there to ensure that Canada’s nuclear reactors don’t meltdown and cause a full-scale catastrophe.
“I’ve been intervening before the commission for 15 years,” Stensil said. “They didn’t want to see any outside opposing views. They didn’t want to ask why it happened in the first place and it also shows that the Harper government is still alive and well at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Outside views aren’t welcome. Dissenting views aren’t welcome. And that’s a legacy of Harper that the Trudeau government needs to clean up.”
The letter, released by Stensil, a nuclear campaigner from Greenpeace Canada, to media outlets in July, was addressed to Binder, who was appointed by the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper. Stensil had received a copy of the letter, along with other senior officials at the commission in May. It suggested that commission employees were not doing their job properly, withholding critical information from commissioners, prior to decisions on nuclear safety.
The letter also alleged that some nuclear plants were violating safety rules and had licenses that were approved following inadequate reviews by staff, who then withheld information from commissioners prior to decisions. The author or authors said that the commission, as a result, failed to identify safety risks at nuclear plants and impose conditions to reduce the likelihood of serious accidents.
Stensil has compared these types of failings to the errors which led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan that was triggered by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, causing serious damage in its wake.
“It’s very clear from this letter that people (the authors) have inside information about what’s going on at the CNSC,” Stensil said. “I’ve seen some of these issues raised in debates internally that I’ve gotten through access to information (requests). There’s a credibility issue here. And when you start dismissing a dissenter as not having expertise, it really shows why they probably did this in an anonymous fashion.”
But when Stensil began addressing the whistleblowers’ concerns, Binder told him that the commission had discussed the anonymous letter the night before and proceeded to cut off the environmentalist’s microphone.
Whistleblowers targeted by jokes, ridicule
At that previous meeting, the commission heard testimony from several staff, led by Peter Elder, an engineer and strategic advisor at the commission who presented a report that dismissed the concerns raised by the whistleblowers and defended the commission’s oversight and integrity.
Binder and the commission’s senior staff went a bit further, suggesting that the letter’s author or authors were incompetent……After several staff members further ridiculed the letter and commended their boss, Binder, for raising good points, another executive, Ramzi Jammal, the executive vice president and chief regulatory operations officer intervened to echo their comments…….
Stensil described the whole exercise as having appeared to be staged to embarrass and shame the author or authors of the letter and discourage others from coming forward with safety concerns.
Scientists’ union rebukes nuclear boss, vows to defend public interest Binder’s behaviour prompted a rebuke from the union that represents the commission’s scientists and which has been trying to ensure that its collective agreements with government include protections for scientific integrity to prevent muzzling.
“Our members who are involved in protecting the safety of Canadians do not take their duties or concerns lightly,” said Steve Hindle, vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. “It is unfortunate that Mr. Binder has chosen to make light of such an important issue. But his reaction will not prevent our members from defending the public interest.”……. http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/08/18/news/canadian-nuclear-boss-jokes-about-whistleblowers-and-muzzles-environmentalist
Is the Energy Department doing enough to protect nuclear whistleblowers? BY LINDSAY WISE firstname.lastname@example.org WASHINGTON , 9 Aug 16 Changes announced by the U.S. Department of Energy to strengthen protections for nuclear whistleblowers don’t go far enough to fix deep-rooted problems unearthed in a recent audit, lawmakers and worker advocates say.
The audit, released last month, found that the DOE’s nuclear program rarely holds its civilian contractors accountable for unlawful retaliation against contract employees who raise concerns about health, safety, fraud and waste.
The lack of enforcement has led to the creation of chilled work environments at nuclear sites across the country, according to the audit performed by the Government Accountability Office at the request of three Democratic senators: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
The senators had asked the GAO in 2014 to look into persistent incidents of retaliation against whistleblowers reported at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state.
Over the next two years, the probe expanded to review the handling of 87 contractor employee complaints filed at 10 of the DOE’s largest nuclear facilities, including Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina.
One whistleblower, Sandra Black, said she was fired from her job as head of the employee concerns program at the Savannah River Site, also known as SRS, after she cooperated with GAO officials on the audit.
Steven Croley, the Department of Energy’s general counsel, did not mention the audit last week when he announced steps to strengthen protections for nuclear whistleblowers on the department’s website. Croley wrote in a blog post that the department plans to issue detailed guidance to its personnel to clarify “if and when” the agency will reimburse contractors’ legal costs in whistleblower cases.
The Department of Energy paid more than $62 million in legal fees for contractors in 36 settlements from 2009 to 2013, even though there was no documented evidence that the costs were allowable under department policy, according to another audit released in February by the DOE’s inspector general. Three of those cases involved whistleblower complaints……..
Nuclear safety watchdogs complain the reforms outlined by Croley are neither new nor effective. “It is the same thin gruel offered up for the past 30 years, dressed up as news,” said Tom Carpenter, director at Hanford Challenge, a regional public interest group in Seattle.
The DOE put similar reforms in place in the 1990s – including a zero tolerance policy for reprisals and a proposed limit on the reimbursement of contractors’ legal defense costs – but those measures failed to address the problem,
Specifically, the reform about civil penalties has limited value, Carpenter said. He pointed out that the DOE has had the power to bring civil penalties against contractors for whistleblower retaliation for decades, but has only done so twice in 30 years, as noted in the recent audit.
Carpenter also worries that the DOE seems to be narrowing the application of this provision to only include whistleblowers who raise nuclear safety or radiation issues, and not concerns about chemical vapor exposures, fraud, waste and abuse, violations of environmental regulations, etc.
“DOE keeps touting their broken programs to protect whistleblowers as if they actually work,” Carpenter said…. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/congress/article94458847.html
Ex-Hanford nuclear facility employee gravely ill after inhaling toxic fumes Nuclear worker: ‘Retaliation is very real at Hanford’ Susannah Frame, KING5.com, July 29, 2016 A veteran worker at the Hanford Site says he was harassed, isolated and reassigned to cleaning tasks after he made repeated attempts to bring attention to safety problems in the lab where he works.
“Retaliation and harassment is very, very real at Hanford and that’s a fact. I lived it and I’m living it right now,” said Dave Lee, an instrument technician assigned to the 222-S Lab at Hanford. “I’m cleaning closets and I’m replacing filters and if that’s not degrading and retaliatory, explain to me what is.”
Ex-Hanford nuclear facility employee gravely ill after inhaling toxic fumes
The 222 S Lab is a 70,000 square foot facility operated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS). Work in the lab consists of analyzing samples of lethal radioactive nuclear waste taken from underground storage tanks.
Technicians also analyze vapors captured from the headspaces of the tanks. The vapors contain a mix of poisonous chemicals that were used to extract plutonium from spent fuel rods. Production took place at Hanford from the 1940s through the 1980s to support the country’s nuclear weapons program. Since then, work at the site has been exclusively dedicated to cleanup – one of biggest environmental remediation projects in the world.
Since last November, Lee says he’s repeatedly brought up safety concerns related to a piece of machinery used to analyze vapors. He noticed oil leaking from a Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer (GC-MS) instrument. A GC-MC machine measures the presence of selected chemicals in materials fed into it.
His research of the GC-MC factory manuals found that oil in the GC-MC is contaminated with whatever is being tested. That means toxic vapors could be emanating from the oil, into the breathing space of lab workers, who don’t wear protective gloves or respiratory protection as WRPS has never required it.
According to the Clarus 560/600 MS Hardware Guide: “When using toxic samples, the mechanical pump oil is toxic waste….If you were running toxic samples, the oil is contaminated as toxic waste. Handle and dispose of waste oil appropriately.”
“I come to find out this roughing pump oil is part of the process stream (which means it’s in contact with contaminated substances),” said Lee. “I was mad (when I found out)……..
According to a discrimination complaint filed against WRPS with the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Lee reported his concerns to many people, including his direct manager and other managers present in lab meetings, the maintenance manager of the lab, the site wide manager of the lab, a field representative from the Defense Facilities Nuclear Safety Board, members of the Department of Energy’s Employee Concerns Council, the Employee Concerns Council manager, in addition to writing up a Problem Evaluation Request (PER) about inadequate venting in the lab. PERs are designed to formally document a concern that is supposed to be addressed by the company.
Lee said after all that, nothing changed. Managers allegedly told him not to worry about it.
“’This is common practice, Dave. You’re fine,’” was the alleged response.
That led to a more dramatic action. On May 2, Lee issued what is called a stop work action at the lab. All Hanford workers have the right to shut work down if they feel the conditions are unsafe. Lee wanted no work to take place with the oil until it was fully analyzed to ascertain if it were indeed hazardous. The next day, WRPS human resources asked for his badge. He was sent home, placed on “investigative removal” for allegations of “extremely serious misconduct”……..
According to a newly released report from the Government Accountability Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress, Dave Lee’s experience isn’t isolated. The investigators found the U.S. Department of Energy routinely allows “unlawful retaliation” perpetrated by its contractors at sites such as Hanford.
“It’s clear the Department of Energy contractors are going to go to amazing lengths to send a signal to their employees that when you blow the whistle it is going to be the end of your career,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in response to the GAO findings………
Pattern at Hanford
Hanford has been embroiled in high-profile whistleblower retaliation cases in recent years. ……..http://www.king5.com/news/local/investigations/nuclear-worker-retaliation-is-very-real-at-hanford/283622616
the pact has had deadly consequences. For years, the Soviet Union’s political and scientific leadership withheld the effects of extreme exposure to radiation on the health of the city’s inhabitants, and their future offspring.
From the late 1940s, people here started to get sick and die: the victims of long-term exposure to radiation.
While accurate data is not available thanks to the authorities’ extreme secrecy and frequent denials, the gravestones of many young residents in Ozersk’s cemetery bear witness to the secret the Soviets tried to bury alongside victims of the Mayak plant.
It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend how the residents of City 40 can continue to live in a place they know is slowly killing them.
Hot Docs 2016 Trailers: CITY 40
The graveyard of the Earth’: inside City 40, Russia’s deadly nuclear secret https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jul/20/graveyard-earth-inside-city-40-ozersk-russia-deadly-secret-nuclear
Ozersk, codenamed City 40, was the birthplace of the Soviet nuclear weapons programme. Now it is one of the most contaminated places on the planet – so why do so many residents still view it as a fenced-inparadise? Samira Goetsche Continue reading
Department of Energy took little action against contractors, federal report says
‘They are eventually going to terminate anyone who files a concern with DOE,’ one employee told investigators
Two largest facilities didn’t implement pilot program to boost whistleblower protections
BY LINDSAY WISE AND SAMMY FRETWELL McClatchy Washington Bureau WASHINGTON, 14 July 16
When Sandra Black’s colleagues came to her to report unsafe, illegal or wasteful practices at the Savannah River nuclear facility in South Carolina, she assured them that the U.S. Department of Energy would not tolerate retaliation against them.
“Now I know that wasn’t true,” said Black, of Martinez, Georgia.
As head of the site’s employee complaints program, Black’s job required her to evaluate such concerns and protect employees who raised them.
Then she herself was fired, allegedly because she cooperated with government auditors who were investigating retaliation against whistleblowers, according to a highly critical Government Accountability Office report released on Thursday.
The report found that the DOE’s nuclear program almost never holds its civilian contractors accountable for unlawful retaliation against whistleblowers.
The Department of Energy relies more heavily on contractors than any other civilian federal agency. Ninety percent of the DOE’s budget is spent on contracts and large capital asset projects.
And yet the agency has taken little or no action against contractors responsible for creating chilled work environments at nuclear sites across the country, and has failed to create effective policies for doing so, the report says.
Only two violation notices have been issued against contractors in the past 20 years, according to the report.
“All the words that the (U.S. Department of Energy) proclaims about wanting to have a strong ‘safety culture,’ a ‘safety conscious work environment,’ and that it has ‘zero tolerance for retaliation are a pretense,” Black said at a press conference on Capitol Hill, her voice shaking with emotion.
“It is impossible to explain how devastated I am,” she said. “I did nothing wrong.”
The report was released at a news conference Thursday held by three Democratic senators who requested the investigation more than two years ago: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts.
The senators initially had asked the GAO to get to the bottom of persistent incidents of retaliation against whistleblowers reported at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state. The scope of the GAO’s review soon broadened to the handling of 87 contractor employee complaint files at 10 of the DOE’s largest nuclear facilities, including Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C
“The three of us have been doing this a while and I think it would be fair to say we thought that we had seen it all,” Wyden said. “Today, however, it seems that there’s a whole new precedent. We’re talking about a contractor who was retaliated against for actually helping government auditors investigate retaliation against whistleblowers.”
Black’s firing was a new low, Wyden said. “Auditors couldn’t identify a single instance where someone providing information to them had ever been dealt with in this way,” he said.
“It’s clear that DOE contractors are going to go to amazing lengths to send the message to their employees that when you blow the whistle it’s going to be the end of your career,” he said.
McCaskill said the report confirmed her fears that the DOE is not taking the problem seriously enough.
“I know we have heard the Secretary of Energy and his predecessors saying that things will get better, but based on the findings of this report released today, it’s clear that things are not getting better,” she said.
The report verified that contract employees at DOE’s nuclear sites “are working in an environment that is not open, not safety conscious and hostile to whistleblowers,” she said.
One particular point of concern, McCaskill said, is the report’s finding the DOE hasn’t been making full use of a pilot program she helped put in place to enhance whistleblower protection for contract employees.
The report said the DOE has not taken steps to evaluate the pilot program’s merits and could not even tell investigators which contractors had adopted it and when.
Two of the DOE’s largest nuclear facilities, Savannah River Site and Hanford, “had not bothered to implement the program” at all, McCaskill said………
Above all, said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, the nuclear weapons contractors should be barred from using unlimited taxpayer’s money against whistleblowers in legal proceedings.
“The GAO’s findings of abysmal whistleblower protection at the Department of Energy is not by accident or coincidence,” Coughlan said. “DOE whistleblower retaliation is historic, systemic and by design, seeking to suppress public knowledge of the inside secrets of the dirty nuclear weapons business.”
Investigators say in the GAO report that Black was fired allegedly for cooperating with the agency, a claim Black made in a federal whistleblower complaint against site contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.
Black said she was pressured by her superiors to alter or close some investigative reports. She also was pressured to disclose the identities of employees who brought up questions, Black said.
In one case, a senior SRNS official told her he wanted to know the name of the “rat’’ who’d prompted an investigation of hazardous gas cylinder releases, but Black refused. She said it was vital to maintain a whistleblower’s confidentiality.
Black said she was fired in January 2015 after she talked with the GAO. Even though Black had never been disciplined in three decades of working at SRS – in fact, she had been promoted and rewarded with bonuses – human resource representatives told her she was being fired for an unsatisfactory job performance, her labor department complaint says.
Black said Thursday that her very public termination has had a “chilling effect” on other workers at the SRS, an assertion echoed in the report’s findings.
One SRS employee told auditors, “They fired (Sandra Black). What do you think they’re going to do to me?”
Others said, “They will make an example of anyone who challenges them” and, “There are eventually going to terminate anyone who files a concern with DOE.”
Those who do come forward face ostracization and long, expensive legal battles.
Walt Tamosaitis, who was fired after raising safety concerns about the handling of radioactive waste at Hanford Reservation in Washington state, spoke at Thursday’s press conference about his sense of profound alienation the day he was fired as manager of research and technology at Hanford’s waste vitrification plant.
“I was told to hand over my phone, Blackberry, badge, keys and leave the site,” he recalled. “I was escorted to the door and told not to come back. I was not given any reason for it. It was the loneliest day of my life.”
After a five year legal battle, Hanford subcontractor URS settled a lawsuit Tamosaitis had brought for $4.1 million. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/congress/article89674082.html
U.S. State Department to release human rights report on N.K. this week WASHINGTON, July 5 (Yonhap) –– The U.S. State Department is expected to submit a report on North Korea’s human rights abuses to Congress this week, and the document is likely to name North Korean leader Kim Jong-un responsible for the situation, a diplomatic source said Tuesday.
Under the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act enacted in February, the State Department is required to submit a specific report on Pyongyang’s human rights abuses within 120 days of enactment. That deadline passed on June 17.
The department is expected to submit the report this week as it is unable to delay any longer, and the report is expected to mention the North’s leader, the source said on condition of anonymity.
The report can be used as a basis for what would be the first-ever U.S. sanctions on the North over the country’s human rights record. News reports have said that the U.S. is expected to blacklist about 10 North Korean officials. Should Kim be included in the report, he is also expected to be blacklisted……..The U.S. has led the U.N. Security Council to adopt the toughest sanctions ever on Pyongyang while enacting its own unilateral sanctions on the communist nation in the wake of the North’s fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch the following month.
Last month, the Treasury Department also designated the North as a “primary money laundering concern,” a powerful sanction designed to cut off the provocative regime from the international banking system for defiantly pursuing nuclear and missile development. http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2016/07/06/52/0200000000AEN20160706000400315F.html
Decades Later, Sickness Among Airmen After a Hydrogen Bomb Accident, NYT, by DAVE PHILIPPS JUNE 19, 2016 “……….Spain’s Monitoring
The United States promised to pay for long-term monitoring of health in the village, but for decades it provided only about 15 percent of funding, with Spain paying the rest, according to a declassified Department of Energy summary. Broken air-monitoring stations went unfixed and equipment was often old and unreliable. In the early 1970s, an Atomic Energy Commission scientist noted, the Spanish field monitoring team consisted of a lone graduate student.
Reports of two children dying of leukemia during that time went uninvestigated. The lead Spanish scientist monitoring the population told American counterparts in a 1976 memo that, in light of the leukemia cases, Palomares needed “some kind of medical surveillance of the population to keep watch for diseases or deaths.” None was created.
In the late 1990s, after years of pressure from Spain, the United States agreed to increase funding. New surveys of the village found extensive contamination that had gone undetected, including some areas where radiation was 20 times the permissible level for inhabited areas. In 2004, Spain quietly fenced off the most contaminated land near the bomb craters.
Since then, Spain has urged the United States to finish cleaning the site.
Because of the uneven monitoring, the effect on public health is far from clear. A small mortality study in 2005 found cancer rates had gone up in the village compared with similar villages in the region, but the author, Pedro Antonio Martínez Pinilla, an epidemiologist, cautioned that the results could be because of random error, and urged more study.
At that time, a United States Department of Energy scientist, Terry Hamilton, proposed another study, noting problems in Spain’s monitoring techniques. “It was clear the uptake of plutonium was poorly understood,” he said in an interview. The department did not approve his proposal…..
About a fifth of the plutonium spread in 1966 is still estimated to contaminate the area. After years of pressure, the United States agreed in 2015 to clean up the remaining plutonium, but there is no approved plan or timetable…….http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/us/decades-later-sickness-among-airmen-after-a-hydrogen-bomb-accident.html
When he was released from prison in 2004, Israel banned him from speaking with foreigners and leaving Israel, among other restrictions.
According to Sunday’s indictment, Vanunu met two Americans at a hotel in east Jerusalem in 2013, moved apartments without notifying Israeli authorities in 2014, and in 2015 told an Israeli TV anchor information related to his work at the nuclear reactor that he is forbidden from speaking about.
Japan’s ‘press club’ system, government pressure criticised by U.N. rapporteur on freedom of expression
U.N. rapporteur on freedom of expression slams Japan’s ‘press club’ system, government pressure, Japan Times BY SHUSUKE MURAI STAFF WRITER 19 Apr 16 After a week of conducting interviews, a United Nations expert on freedom of expression concluded Tuesday that Japan’s media independence is being jeopardized by government pressure, however inconspicuous it may be.
David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, also said the organizational structure of the media industry in Japan has undermined journalists’ ability to counter such pressure.
“The theoretical possibility of government regulation and organization … combined cause media freedom to suffer; media independence to suffer,” Kaye told a news conference Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.
It was his first official news conference since his original visit in December was postponed at the request of the Foreign Ministry because it was “unable to arrange meetings” with officials at that time.
Kaye pointed out there is “serious concern” about the ability of journalists to independently report on sensitive issues such as nuclear power due to the pressure exerted when the government flexes its regulatory muscles.
In February, communications minister Sanae Takaichi ominously noted that under the Broadcast Act the government can legally suspend the licenses of TV stations and networks if their programming is found to contain political bias.
Although government officials insist the remark was simply a factual statement about the law, the existence of the policy itself may reasonably be perceived as a threat to media freedom in Japan, Kaye said.
“I think this is a significant problem that the Broadcast Act allows for regulation by the government of the media,” he said, adding the law should be amended to prevent the state from being in a position to adjudicate what constitutes “bias.”
Meanwhile, Kaye also pointed out that the kisha club system in Japan — media associations formed around certain groups and government organizations through which reporters are granted access — should be abolished to regain media independence……….
The full report on Kaye’s investigation will be published in 2017 to be submitted to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/04/19/national/u-n-rapporteur-freedom-expression-slams-japans-press-club-system-government-pressure/#.VxbkGtR97Gh
In her job at the Savannah River Site nuclear weapons plant in South Carolina, Sandra Black was responsible for looking into concerns raised by employees about everything from health and safety to fraud, abuse, harassment and retaliation.
But in fall 2014, when federal investigators with the Government Accountability Office asked her whether she had the necessary independence to do her job, Black says she answered truthfully: She told them her supervisors had interfered with her work and had tried to intimidate her into changing her findings if they validated employees’ complaints.
Black disclosed her conversation with the GAO investigators to her bosses. A few weeks later, on Jan. 7, 2015, she was fired.
“It is so humiliating and embarrassing,’’ Black said. “It’s hard to come home and tell your family you’ve been terminated after 35 years. It was for no reason other than retaliation for doing my job correctly with integrity.’ ’’
The investigators who questioned Black had been conducting a probe into whistleblower retaliation by the Department of Energy and its contractors at the nation’s nuclear facilities. The GAO is expected to release a report this spring.
Three U.S. senators — Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Edward Markey of Massachusetts — had asked the GAO in March 2014 to get to the bottom of persistent incidents of retaliation against whistleblowers reported at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state.
The probe broadened to review other DOE sites, including SRS near Aiken, S.C.
“It defies belief that an Energy Department contractor would fire an employee who cooperated with a Government Accountability Office investigation into whistleblower retaliation,” said Wyden, a former chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
“I’m awaiting the GAO’s full report,” Wyden said, “but the firing of Sandra Black under these circumstances demonstrates to me that the culture of retaliation against whistleblowers is regrettably alive and well at DOE.”
Markey said Black’s termination is evidence of a “dangerous culture of disregard for the law” among DOE contractors, including Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the company Black says let her go.
“Rather than rewarding whistleblowers who bravely put their careers on the line to protect public safety, SRNS and other contractors have acted to retaliate against them, sending a chilling message to all employees who bear witness to wasteful, unsafe, or illegal activity,” Markey said. “DOE has historically done nothing to curb this wholly unacceptable behavior.”……….
Carolina Dust Up
Similar concerns are found nearly 3,000 miles from Hanford at the Savannah River Site, along the South Carolina-Georgia border.
Black, a 59-year-old Martinez, Ga., resident, said she’s worried workers at the 310-square-mile complex won’t come forward with safety complaints now that she has been let go………http://www.thestate.com/news/local/article65707887.html
Whether or not you believe Mr. Assange is guilty of a sexual offence, whether or not you think he is a self-publicist deliberately resisting arrest, the fact remains that the authorities could use less restrictive means without compromising the initial investigation into the allegations regarding his sexual conduct in Sweden
Liora Lazarus: Is the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Decision on Assange ‘So Wrong’?UK Constitutional Law Association 13 Feb 16 The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention handed down its decision on Julian Assange on Friday 5 February 2015 (A/HRC/WGAD/2015/54). It has been met with almost universal ridicule from a line of British officials, legal academics and the press. The decision has been described as ‘ridiculous’ by the UK Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, and former Director of Public Prosecution Ken MacDonald argues that describing Assange’s conditions as ‘arbitrary detention’ is ‘ludicrous’. The press is equally incredulous. ………
Mr. Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden to answer allegations of sexual assault. The Swedish prosecutorial authorities have issued a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) which the UK authorities are bound to implement. Mr. Assange, after arrest of 10 days and house arrest thereafter, was granted asylum by Ecuador after his appeal against the EAW failed. This is when he took up residence in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012. Assange argues that he fears ultimate extradition from Sweden to the USA on the grounds of his involvement in Wikileaks.
This is obviously no small fear, given the sentencing and treatment of Chelsea Manning in the USA, and the decision of Edward Snowden to take up asylum in Russia. The Swedish authorities refuse to grant Assange any guarantee of non-refoulement to the US, and his right to asylum has also not been recognized by the UK or Sweden. ……..
Mr. Assange argues that he is not free to leave the Embassy; he would have to accept the conditions of his immediate arrest, his extradition to Sweden and his subsequent questioning there. He would have to undertake the risk that he would be extradited to the US, and the subsequent risks to his rights were that to happen.
The mandate of the UN WGAD and the test for ‘deprivation of liberty’
In order to establish its competence, and to decide upon the case, the UN WGAD has to decide whether there is a ‘deprivation of liberty’ under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This involves a more severe restriction of motion within a narrower space than mere interference with liberty of movement. (This is explained in General Comment 35 by the UN Human Rights Committee, para. 5……..
The UN WGAD is given a very specific mandate by the United Nations and its Members to decide on these very issues. ……..
The European Arrest Warrant and the Swedish investigation
As easy as it might be in the press to simplify the issues surrounding this case, it is worth elaborating on some key technicalities. The UK authorities are acting pursuant to the conditions of a EAW issued by Sweden who are asking to question Mr. Assange on allegations of sexual assault in order to decide whether to charge him.
The prosecutorial authorities in Sweden re-opened the case against Assange, despite an earlier preliminary investigation (in which Assange had co-operated while in Sweden) that decided there was no case against him in respect of the alleged rape. There is to date no charge against Mr. Assange. The EAW has been at the core of Sweden’s approach, and there had been no attempt by Swedish prosecutors to make use of ‘mutual assistance protocols’ in which Mr. Assange could be interviewed by video-conference (a procedure available under Article 9 of Second Additional Procotol on ‘mutual assistance’)………
Assange’s lawyers have offered co-operation on this alternative a number of times. The Swedish prosecutorial authorities have refused to explore these alternatives, relying instead on the EAW they have issued. They have also failed to disclose the full case against Assange.
Assange has tried but failed to challenge the European Arrest Warrant against him in Sweden and in the UK. In a judgment handed down on 11 May 2015, the majority of the Swedish Supreme Court held that the EAW was valid, but a dissent in this case by Justice Svante Johansson also argued that the arrest warrant was ‘in violation of the principle of proportionality’, as the reasons for continued detention did not ‘outweigh the intrusion and inconvenience’ caused to Assange. According to the Guardian coverage of this case, the ‘Swedish Supreme court also stated … that the investigating authorities “must examine what alternative investigative opportunities are available to drive the investigation forward”. Former Legal Counsel to the United Nations and Legal Adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hans Corell, has stated that he “does not understand why the prosecutor had not questioned Julian Assange during all the years he has been at the Ecuadorian Embassy”………….
The main arguments of Assange’s lawyers
The central argument of Assange’s lawyers’ proceed on the basis that his confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy ‘cannot … be characterized as volitional’ (para 13). He is not free to leave, because he is protecting himself from the violation of other human rights: ‘the only way for Mr. Assange to enjoy his right to asylum was to be in detention’ (para 11). If Assange were to leave he would be arrested in the UK and extradited pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Sweden. Consequently, he would expose himself to the risk of a ‘well founded fear of persecution’ were he to be extradited to the US from Sweden (para 12).
In the UK, Assange’s challenge goes to the validity of the EAW under UK law……….
In essence, the UN WGAD had to decide two questions. Firstly, whether there was a ‘deprivation of liberty’ as opposed to a ‘restriction of liberty’. Secondly, assuming the answer to the first question is in the affirmative, whether that deprivation of liberty was ‘arbitrary’.
In response to the first question, the UN WGAD clearly accepted the argument that Assange’s conditions are not volitional, or self-imposed……..
the UN WGAD was persuaded that the confinement was arbitrary. The most compelling grounds were those based on proportionality. In short, there could have been another, less restrictive way of proceeding. Before issuing a European Arrest Warrant, the Swedish authorities could have followed the normal practice of interviewing Assange in a British police interview room. After Assange, sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy they could have questioned Assange by video link. He could have been provided the chance to respond to the allegations against him, or provided with an assurance related to his refoulment to the US. But his conditions currently are based on the legitimacy of an EAW which two UK Supreme Court justices consider invalid under UK law, and which one Swedish Supreme Court judge considers disproportionate……….
There is still no charge against Mr. Assange. He has, under international, European, and domestic law, the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He has offered to respond to the process in other ways, and would co-operate fully if he had a further guarantee of non-refoulment.
Whether or not you believe Mr. Assange is guilty of a sexual offence, whether or not you think he is a self-publicist deliberately resisting arrest, the fact remains that the authorities could use less restrictive means without compromising the initial investigation into the allegations regarding his sexual conduct in Sweden. ……….
Reasonable (and even judicial) minds have clearly differed on these issues, which suggests that the UN WGAD decision cannot fairly be described as ‘ridiculous’, ‘ludicrous’, or ‘so wrong’. No doubt views on this may be coloured by our particular position on the integrity of Assange’s himself. But human rights are not meant to favour the popular amongst us; they are meant to favour us all.
Liora Lazarus is a Fellow of St. Anne’s College and an Associate Professor in Law at Oxford University. https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2016/02/09/liora-lazarus-is-the-united-nations-working-group-on-arbitrary-detention-decision-on-assange-so-wrong/
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