| Article published Friday, April 25, 2003|
FirstEnergy blames whistleblower for safety
Andrew Siemaszko is former lead nuclear systems
BLADE STAFF WRITER
OAK HARBOR, Ohio - FirstEnergy Corp. has fired
back at the whistleblower it dismissed from Davis-Besse, laying much
of the blame for the plant’s reactor-head degradation on his
Former engineer Andrew Siemaszko made it difficult for
the company to identify earlier the problem because he failed to
perform his job at "even minimal company standards," according to a
document by Bob Saunders, of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co.,
president and chief nuclear officer of the utility’s nuclear
"Further, his inattention to detail and failure
to inform FENOC managers ... significantly contributed to inaccurate
and incomplete information being provided to the NRC," Mr. Saunders
wrote in an April 11 filing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
that was just made public.
Mr. Saunders’ comments were
included in a 13-page supplemental response to a petition filed in
February by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland). The
congressman has asked the NRC to revoke FirstEnergy’s
Mr. Siemaszko, a former lead nuclear systems
engineer, supervised workers assigned to perform maintenance on the
reactor head. He was fired in September.
alleges he was wrongfully terminated, and that his actions were
protected under federal whistleblower laws.
Mr. Siemaszko was
not available for comment yesterday. His attorney, Billie Garde,
said she was appalled by Mr. Saunders’ letter.
She said the
company is trying to make him a scapegoat, despite its repeated
admissions that the problem stemmed from a collective letdown that
placed profits ahead of safety in the 1990s.
"It’s beyond the
pale in terms of them attacking him. Their attempt to saddle the
complete breakdown of the company on Andrew’s shoulders is bizarre,
particularly in light of what the company has already admitted," Ms.
Garde said. "I’m just shocked they would resort to this."
said it is an "outrageous approach to their accountability as a
company" that she will review in greater detail from a legal
Mr. Kucinich was traveling but issued a statement
through his press secretary, Doug Gordon: "FirstEnergy lost the
public trust when it put profit over public safety. For this reason,
the NRC must revoke FirstEnergy’s license, and fully inspect the
plant before it allows it to re-open. The NRC must do its job and
hold FirstEnergy accountable."
NRC officials have said
repeatedly that a common denominator between the reactor head and
other equipment problems at Davis-Besse was the plant’s lack of a
safety culture. The regulatory agency told company managers the
plant will not be allowed to restart until it sees evidence of an
improved atmosphere in the workplace.
In his letter, Mr.
Saunders said he views Mr. Siemaszko’s firing as a step in the right
"Rather than reflecting negatively on the current
safety culture, FENOC’s dismissal of Mr. Siemaszko reflects
positively on FENOC’s willingness to hold people accountable for
poor performance," the letter states.
Richard Wilkins, a
company spokesman, said Mr. Siemaszko is one of 18 people who have
been disciplined for performances related to the extended shutdown,
which now exceeds 14 months.
He said the company is holding
accountable people "in key places" who could have done more to bring
issues to managers’ attention.
The NRC had no comment about
Mr. Saunders’ letter
NRC officials have raised concerns about
FirstEnergy’s accuracy and completeness of information, most
recently at the agency’s three-day annual conference in Washington.
Such concerns are part of an investigation by the agency’s Office of
Investigations, a criminal unit that can refer matters to the
Justice Department for prosecution.
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