Whistle-Blower Becomes Watchdog -- Doe Hires Casey Ruud To Police Troublesome Hanford Tank Farm

Seven years ago, he was the most hated whistle-blower at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation when he caused the shutdown of two huge plutonium factories by publicly exposing their safety defects.

One year ago, he filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against his former Hanford employer, the Westinghouse Corp., for harassment.

Now Casey Ruud is coming back, with clipboard in hand - and the authority to put Westinghouse in its place.

Ruud is being hired by the U.S. Department of Energy to watchdog Westinghouse in its operation of the Hanford tank farm where the federal government stores the nation's largest collection of high-level radioactive wastes.

Energy Department spokesman Tom Bauman said the 38-year-old auditor will be "finding problems and solutions" at a facility that has been heavily criticized by environmentalists because of its leaking - and potentially explosive - tanks.

Ruud, who has been working at Hanford for a state agency, said he is ready for the oldtimers who probably will give him trouble when he shows up wearing a federal badge.

"I've been cautioned by DOE headquarters that they can't change the minds of the people overnight," Ruud said. "A lot of that burden is going to be on my shoulders to perform at a level that is beyond reproach."

Ruud was an auditor for Rockwell Hanford, which operated the reservation before Westinghouse took over, when he advised his superiors in 1986 to shut down two factories where radioactive plutonium was refined for nuclear weapons, citing safety and security lapses.

When his managers ignored him, Ruud gave his information to The Seattle Times. Days after stories were published, the plants were closed. Then he testified before Congress. Rockwell eventually lost its Hanford contract, in part because of Ruud's revelations.

Ruud was laid off in early 1988 by Westinghouse, which had replaced Rockwell. A Labor Department investigator later concluded that Ruud was wrongly dismissed and harassed, and he received a cash settlement.

After Ruud was hired by a contractor at a nuclear weapons facility in South Carolina, he says he was again harassed and forced off the job by Westinghouse officials, who were also in charge there, according to last year's lawsuit.

Since June 1991, Ruud has worked for the state Department of Ecology performing safety audits at Hanford, but never with the kind of authority he will have as a federal overseer.

The Energy Department owns Hanford and regulates all Westinghouse work there.

Bauman said Ruud will be on loan from the state for a couple of years, and his lawsuit against Westinghouse should not cause any problem because it is unrelated to the tank-farm work.

Bauman said Assistant Energy Secretary Thomas Grumbly said at a whistle-blower conference in November that hiring Ruud would be one way the Clinton administration would prove its willingness to cooperate with whistle-blowers.

Ruud's new assignment comes at a time when Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary has been turning the agency upside down, revealing past abuses and assigning tough critics to key positions.

Ruud, who has been profiled in news stories and in two books, is one of the nation's best-known whistle-blowers.

Tom Carpenter, Western district director for the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower organization, said Ruud will give the Energy Department more credibility.

"I think they need a junkyard dog out there," Carpenter said. "I think Casey has really proven himself over and over again for being honest, ethical and right."

Westinghouse spokeswoman Penny Phelps said she doesn't expect Ruud to run into any difficulties because he is already working at Hanford; "he is just going to be wearing a different hat."