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Regional News | Article published Friday, April 25, 2003
FirstEnergy blames whistleblower for safety woes
Picture

Andrew Siemaszko is former lead nuclear systems engineer.
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By
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 lap.

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 subsidiary.

"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 license.

Mr. Siemaszko, a former lead nuclear systems engineer, supervised workers assigned to perform maintenance on the reactor head. He was fired in September.

His complaint 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."

She said it is an "outrageous approach to their accountability as a company" that she will review in greater detail from a legal standpoint.

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 direction.

"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.



More articles on this subject »
FirstEnergy prepares for summer surge 04/19/2003
Davis-Besse snafu leaves an impression 04/19/2003

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