The Office of Health Safety and Security (HSS) is charged with a vital role in ensuring the safety and security of workers in nuclear weapons production facilities. It does this through policy development, offering technical aid, training, enforcing, and oversight programs. It operates under the Department of Energy (DOE). Health Safety and Security office has come under sharp criticism ever since its induction after taking over the duties of the now abolished Office of Environment, Safety, and Health. The move was condemned as a deliberate intention to protect big private contractors at the expense of the worker, whom the department was meant to protect. Massive cases of violations of workers’ safety have been reported in nuclear sites amidst claims by the Office of Health and Safety to step up the measures (Kniesner, 1995).
Some of the controversies facing HSS include delayed security measures at the nuclear weapons sites. Amidst terror threats caused by the events of 9/11, the department promised that it would step up its preparedness for any terror threats at the nuclear facilities. The plan was to intensify security by giving heavily armored vehicles and high caliber weapons to all 11 nuclear sites by 2008, while a fact check reveals that they have spent $420 million by July 2006. By 2007, five of the facilities were yet to receive any reinforcement to curb terror attacks as stipulated under the design basis threat (Perry, 2007).
Another controversy is the controversial awarding of a safety award to Fluor.
HSS is charged with the duty of protecting the workers from the dangers of exposure to hazardous materials. Fluor, a company dealing with nuclear weapons was said to be raising safety concerns in the removal of highly-radioactive spent reactor fuel, and in another incident, it was discovered to be disposing contaminated liquid hexavalent chromium into the ground around the H-Area of the Hanford Site. In both cases, those people who let out the information were punished by Flour through being sacked. While HSS was expected to take a tough stance on such a company, they went forward to present Fluor with a national safety award for its work at Hanford.
The news stunned Government Accountability Project (GAP) who gave a statement declaring that the award was undeserved and it sent a startling message to the contractors the department was sympathetic towards, who violated the worker’s rights (Wilpert and Itoigawa, 2001).
Radioactive leak at Hanford endangers workers is another HSS controversy. CH2M Hill Hanford Group’s workers run into trouble when pumping waste off a tank that had been blocked. They devised a way to unblock it by running the waste in reverse which ended up spilling 80 gallons of high-level liquid on the ground. This placed Hanford in yet another controversy when the radioactive leakage endangered the lives of a dozen workers who complained of illnesses after the incident. Department of Energy denied any relation between the illnesses and the leakage. The Health Safety and Security office which is responsible for ensuring the safety of workers, took a staggering seven hours to give official notice of the radiation spill (King, 2009).
Last but not least, failures at Hanford are another controversy facing HSS.
Government Accountability Project (GAP) exposed setbacks in the way workers were being subjected to unsafe environmental conditions by contractors at Hanford. Washington Closure Hanford (WCH) was allocated a contract to demolish hundreds of old facilities, clean up waste storage sites and create storage for plutonium production reactors. Gap accused WCH of violating environmental and safety rules as well as inadequately supervising subcontractors. Workers were thereby exposed to hazardous effluents while the federal safety regulations were not followed. Department of Energy responded by promising to look into the problems which GAP blew a whistle about. The department however failed to put into place avenues of investigating the violations as requested by GAP (Wallechinsky, 2009).
Nuclear facilities have experienced numerous numbers of accidents. A majority of these problems have their root cause as laxity on the part of the management. Although no one has been reported dead from these accidents in the recent past, they are known to inflict serious damage to the victims. These accidents and violations of the nuclear safety rules have resulted in the closure of several nuclear-producing companies, yet the occurrences have persisted. The need to enforce these safety rules has resulted in the formation of programs that are run under the oversight/enforcement program (Rahm, 2002).
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Perry, W.J. (2007). Nuclear and Worker Safety: Actions Needed to Determine the Effectiveness of Safety Improvement Efforts at NNSA’s Weapons Laboratories. New York: DIANE Publishing.
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Rahm, D. (2002). Toxic waste and environmental policy in the 21st century United States. Jefferson: McFarland.
Wallechinsky, D. (2009). All Government. Office of Health, Safety, and Security, 7(4). Web.