In an attempt to contain billions of gallons of dangerous waste at the former Hanford nuclear site, billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted.

And without the courageous decisions of a number of employees, billions more would be heading down that rabbit hole. All of that would postpone mitigating environmental risks at one of the most contaminated sites in North America.

Last Thursday, Walt Tamosaitis and the whistleblower support groups Government Accountability Project and Hanford Challenge, spoke at Whitman College as part of the American Whistleblower Tour.

Tamosaitis served as manager of research and technology at Hanford, but was removed from the position after he raised concerns about plant safety and operation. The plant was under construction and the federal contractor tasked with designing and building it was moving forward at all costs. Yet Tamosaitis had serious concerns about basic scientific principles – namely that the plant would not work, or if it did run it wouldn’t treat waste as planned.

So he spoke up. And he suffered serious retaliation.

His security clearance was revoked, he was taken off of top-level projects, was socially shunned and relegated to a basement desk to do menial work. But Tamosaitis, who has more than 40 years experience in the field and a solid industrywide reputation, didn’t sit back and take it. He wrote a letter to an industry watchdog that garnered attention from the media and the government. He was eventually called to testify before Congress.

Tamosaitis’ testimony had serious impact. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has personally taken an interest in the work at Hanford, creating oversight boards to keep a closer eye on it. And the waste treatment plant that Tamosaitis argued against has been scrapped for now. Since he bravely stepped forward, others have followed. The culture of secrecy at Hanford is slowly being chipped away and the taxpayers – those of us who are paying for this cleanup and will suffer if it is not done right – are becoming more informed.

Recent findings show a double-walled tank, expected to last hundreds if not thousands of years, has begun to leak. The number of serious short-term issues that that must be addressed continues to rise.

Bureaucracies too frequently protect themselves instead of the public. Instead of penalizing a whistleblower like Walt Tamosaitis, America should be grateful to him.