| Article published Tuesday, April 29, 2003|
Treatment of ex-nuclear plant staffer
By TOM HENRY
Efforts to get Davis-Besse employees to talk
with regulators about problems at the nuclear power plant may be
irrevocably hampered by the accusations leveled by FirstEnergy at a
fired engineer, according to two nuclear industry
Paul Blanch and Ulrich Witte, formerly of the
troubled Millstone complex in Connecticut, said they believe that
FirstEnergy’s charges against Andrew Siemaszko will discourage other
employees from coming forward - regardless of whether Mr. Siemaszko
proves he is a whistleblower who was wrongfully
"It is just sending a horrible, horrible message
to the employees that if they [FirstEnergy management] can get away
with it, they will," Mr. Blanch said. "The message is out there that
the utility is persecuting whistleblowers."
Regulatory Commission has said it needs employees to feel
comfortable taking safety concerns to them without fear of
retribution. By laying much of the blame at Mr. Siemaszko’s feet,
FirstEnergy is making it tougher for employees to cooperate, Mr.
"I guarantee there will never be a credible
witness who will step forward and speak honestly about what happened
at that plant, because of this," he added.
Millstone is the
only site other than Davis-Besse that has undergone the NRC’s
relatively new "safety culture" and "safety-conscious work
environment" review process.
NRC officials have said their
Millstone investigation, initiated in 1996, stemmed from evidence
that employees - including Mr. Blanch and Mr. Witte - had been
harassed and intimidated. Both men were later given whistleblower
protection by the government. Mr. Siemaszko is seeking similar
FirstEnergy fired back at Mr. Siemaszko through a
supplemental response to a petition filed by U.S. Rep. Dennis
Kucinich (D., Cleveland). The congressman’s petition, filed in
February, asks for the NRC to revoke FirstEnergy’s
In that report, FirstEnergy stated that Mr.
Siemaszko is largely to blame for the deterioration of Davis-Besse’s
reactor head. That document, filed April 11 and recently made
public, was signed by Bob Saunders, president and chief nuclear
officer of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. It further stated that
much of the "inaccurate and incomplete" information that has been
provided to the NRC is Mr. Siemaszko’s fault.
filing was in response to the congressman’s petition, it was the
first in which the company responded at length to allegations raised
in February in Mr. Siemaszko’s whistleblower complaint. He alleged
in that U.S. Department of Labor complaint that FirstEnergy knew for
years that Davis-Besse’s reactor head was eroding. He said his
dismissal last September stemmed from his insistence to fix that
massive piece of equipment, as well as four pumps used to circulate
Richard Wilkins, FirstEnergy spokesman, said
the company responded appropriately to a petition filed by the
Mr. Siemaszko, one of 18 current or former
employees who have been disciplined, was dismissed because he had a
"key role," he said.
A former lead nuclear systems engineer,
Mr. Siemaszko supervised workers assigned to perform maintenance on
the reactor head. He said in his complaint that he urged the company
to clean rust off the reactor head almost from the day he was hired
The company disputes Mr. Siemaszko’s claims, saying
that he expressed no such veracity about the problem - even though a
company newsletter lauded him for his efforts following the
refueling outage in 2000.
The reactor-head rust problem, the
worst in U.S. nuclear history, was publicly revealed on March 6,
Billie Garde, Mr. Siemasko’s attorney, accused
FirstEnergy of using the petition response as a forum for attacking
her client and diverting attention from management.
Millstone, Davis-Besse will be required to show evidence of an
improved work atmosphere before it can be restarted, the NRC has
Mr. Saunders said in his letter that FirstEnergy’s
decision to fire Mr. Siemaszko could improve morale because it is
indicative of the company’s commitment to hold people
Ms. Garde said the company just demonstrated the
opposite. "That apparently doesn’t matter to them, which speaks
volumes," she said.