Nuclear whistleblowers

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2000 candles in memory of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, at a commemoration 25 years after the nuclear accident, as well as for the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.

There have been a number of nuclear power whistleblowers, often nuclear engineers, who have identified safety concerns about nuclear power. In 1976 Gregory Minor, Richard Hubbard, and Dale Bridenbaugh "blew the whistle" on safety problems at nuclear power plants in the United States. The three nuclear engineers gained the attention of journalists and their disclosures about the threats of nuclear power had a significant impact. George Galatis was a senior nuclear engineer who reported safety problems at the Millstone 1 Nuclear Power Plant, relating to reactor refueling procedures, in 1996.[1] Other nuclear power whistleblowers include Arnold Gundersen and David Lochbaum. Some nuclear power plant workers may have to decide whether to blow the whistle on their employer's nuclear safety practices or to be silent out of fear of losing their jobs.

Karen Silkwood[edit]

The first prominent nuclear power whistleblower was Karen Silkwood, who worked as a chemical technician at a Kerr-McGee nuclear fuel plant. Silkwood became an activist in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union in order to protest health and safety issues. In 1974, she testified to the United States Atomic Energy Commission about her concerns. A few months later she died in a car crash under mysterious conditions on the way to a meeting with a New York Times reporter and a national union leader. The 1983 film Silkwood is an account of this story.

The "GE Three"[edit]

On February 2, 1976, Gregory C. Minor, Richard B. Hubbard, and Dale G. Bridenbaugh (known as the GE Three) "blew the whistle" on safety problems at nuclear power plants, and their action has been called "an exemplary instance of whistleblowing".[2]

The three engineers gained the attention of journalists and their disclosures about the threats of nuclear power had a significant impact. They timed their statements to coincide with their resignations from responsible positions in General Electric's nuclear energy division, and later established themselves as consultants on the nuclear power industry for state governments, federal agencies, and overseas governments. The consulting firm they formed, MHB Technical Associates, was technical advisor for the movie, "The China Syndrome." The three engineers participated in Congressional hearings which their disclosures precipitated.[3][4]

A book chapter which discusses the whistleblowing, written by Vivian Weil, was published in 1983 as "The Browns Ferry Case" in Engineering Professionalism and Ethics, edited by James H. Schaub and Karl Pavlovic, and published by John Wiley & Sons.[2]

Ronald Goldstein[edit]

Ronald J. Goldstein was a supervisor employed by EBASCO, which was a major contractor for the construction of the South Texas plants. In the summer of 1985, Goldstein identified safety problems to SAFETEAM, an internal compliance program established by EBASCO and Houston Lighting, including noncompliance with safety procedures, the failure to issue safety compliance reports, and quality control violations affecting the safety of the plant.

SAFETEAM was promoted as an independent safe haven for employees to voice their safety concerns. The two companies did not inform their employees that they did not believe complaints reported to SAFETEAM had any legal protection. After he filed his report to SAFETEAM, Goldstein was fired. Subsequently, Golstein filed suit under federal nuclear whistleblower statutes.

The U.S. Department of Labor ruled that his submissions to SAFETEAM were protected and his dismissal was invalid, a finding upheld by Labor Secretary Lynn Martin. The ruling was appealed and overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that private programs offered no protection to whistleblowers. After Goldstein lost his case, Congress amended the federal nuclear whistleblower law to provide protection reports made to internal systems and prevent retaliation against whistleblowers.[5]

Arnold Gundersen[edit]

In 1990 Arnold Gundersen discovered radioactive material in an accounting safe at Nuclear Energy Services in Danbury, Connecticut, the consulting firm where he held a $120,000-a-year job as senior vice-president.[6] Three weeks after he notified the company president of what he believed to be radiation safety violations, Gundersen was fired. According to the New York Times, for three years, Gundersen "was awakened by harassing phone calls in the middle of the night" and he "became concerned about his family's safety". Gundersen believes he was blacklisted, harassed and fired for doing what he thought was right.[6]

The New York Times reports that Gundersen's case is not uncommon, especially in the nuclear industry. Even though nuclear workers are encouraged to report potential safety hazards, those who do risk demotion and dismissal. Instead of correcting the problems, whistleblowers say, industry management and government agencies attack them as the cause of the problem. Driven out of their jobs and shunned by neighbors and co-workers, whistleblowers often turn to each other for support.[6]

David Lochbaum[edit]

In the early 1990s, nuclear engineer David Lochbaum and a colleague identified a safety problem in a plant where they were working, but were ignored when they raised the issue with the plant manager, the utility and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). After bringing their concerns to Congress, the problem was corrected not just at the original nuclear plant but at plants across the country.[7]

George Galatis[edit]

George Galatis was a senior nuclear engineer and whistleblower who reported safety problems at the Millstone 1 Nuclear Power Plant, relating to reactor refueling procedures, in 1996.[1][8] The unsafe procedures meant that spent fuel rod pools at Unit 1 had the potential to boil, possibly releasing radioactive steam throughout the plant.[9] Galatis eventually took his concerns to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to find that they had "known about the unsafe procedures for years". As a result of going to the NRC, Galatis experienced "subtle forms of harassment, retaliation, and intimidation".[8]

Rainer Moormann[edit]

Rainer Moormann is a German chemist and nuclear power whistleblower. Since 1976 he has been working at the Forschungszentrum Jülich, doing research on safety problems with pebble bed reactors, fusion power and spallation neutron sources. In 2008 Moormann published a critical paper on the safety of pebble bed reactors,[10][11] which raised attention among specialists in the field, and managed to distribute it via the media, facing considerable opposition. For doing this despite the occupational disadvantages he had to accept as a consequence, Moormann was awarded the whistleblower award of the Federation of German Scientists (VDW)[12] and of the German section of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).

Setsuo Fujiwara[edit]

Setsuo Fujiwara, who used to design reactors, said he clashed with supervisors over an inspection audit he conducted in March 2009 at the Tomari nuclear plant in Japan. Fujiwara refused to approve a routine test by the plant's operator, Hokkaido Electric Power, saying the test was flawed. A week later, he was summoned by his supervisor, who ordered him to correct his written report to indicate that the test had been done properly. After Fujiwara refused, his employment contract was not renewed. "They told me my job was just to approve reactors, not to raise doubts about them", said Fujiwara, 62, who is now suing the nuclear safety organization to get rehired. In a written response to questions from The New York Times, the agency said it could not comment while the court case was under way.[13]

Larry Criscione and Richard H. Perkins[edit]

In 2012, Larry Criscione and Richard H. Perkins publicly accused the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission of downplaying flood risks for nuclear plants which are sited on waterways downstream from large reservoirs and dams. They are engineers with over 20 years of combined government and military service who work for the NRC. Other nuclear safety advocates have supported their complaints.[14]

Nuclear Medicine in Hospital Son Dureta[edit]

A serious transgression occurred in Radiopharmacology Unit of Nuclear Medicine Service of Hospital Son Dureta in Palma, Majorca (Spain). For three weeks in September 2010, quality controls of radioactive pharmaceuticals with Technetium-99m used for scintigraphy were omitted.[15]

A complaint was filed. An inspection on the subject by the Nuclear Security Service of Balearic Islands of the Radiopharmacology Unit was held in November 2011.[16] No penalty was applied.

Recent trends[edit]

A major expansion of nuclear power could lead to "pressure to build and operate nuclear plants faster and cheaper".[17] Lessons from history tell us that these pressures will most likely lead to a "schedule over safety" culture at some plants, and nuclear workers may be pressured to "cut corners and overlook safety problems in the interest of getting and keeping plants online and profits flowing to shareholders".[17]

Nuclear power plant workers may have to decide whether and how vigorously to blow the whistle on their employer's nuclear safety practices or to be silent out of fear of losing their jobs. It has been argued that these workers, who have a legal duty to report nuclear safety concerns, need to be aware of their legal rights and that nuclear power plants adhere to zero-tolerance policies that prohibit harassment and intimidation made unlawful by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974.[17]

Workers at the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant fear retaliation and possible job loss if they report a safety concern, according to a 2010 survey of workers conducted by a Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspector.[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Eric Pooley. Nuclear Warriors Time Magazine, March 4, 1996.
  2. ^ a b Whistleblower on Nuclear Plant Safety
  3. ^ The San Jose Three
  4. ^ The Struggle over Nuclear Power
  5. ^ Kohn, Stephen Martin (2011). The Whistleblower's Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What's Right and Protecting Yourself. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press. pp. 116–18. ISBN 9780762774791. 
  6. ^ a b c Julie Miller (February 12, 1995). "Paying The Price For Blowing The Whistle". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Kyle Rabin (2011-06-30). "Our Hero: David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists". Ecocentric. 
  8. ^ a b William H. Shaw. Business Ethics 2004, pp. 267-268.
  9. ^ Adam Bowles. A Cry in the Nuclear Wilderness Christianity Today, October 2, 2000.
  10. ^ http://juwel.fz-juelich.de:8080/dspace/bitstream/2128/3136/1/Juel_4275_Moormann.pdf
  11. ^ http://juwel.fz-juelich.de:8080/dspace/bitstream/2128/3585/1/Moormann-Juwel.pdf
  12. ^ Press statement of the VWD (in German), official short version in English: http://ialana.net/uploads/media/Program_Whistleblower_Award_2011.pdf, inofficial English translation of the press release: https://euzicasa.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/presentation-of-whistleblower-award-2011_via-hintergrund/
  13. ^ "Warnings on Fukushima ignored, insiders say; They attribute failure to cozy ties between government and industry". Power Engineering. 03/11/2012. 
  14. ^ Tom Zeller Jr. (12/04/2012). "Nuclear Power Whistleblowers Charge Federal Regulators With Favoring Secrecy Over Safety". Huff Post Green. 
  15. ^ Agencia Española de Medicamentos y Productos Sanitarios - Medicamentos de Uso Humano - Fabricación de Medicamentos - Farmacopea - Control de Calidad de Radiofármacos en las Unidades de Radiofarmacia
  16. ^ Acta de Inspección de una instalación de Medicina Nuclear en el Hospital Universitario Son Espases. 30 de noviembre de 2011.
  17. ^ a b c Nicole J. Williams and Debra Katz (May 18, 2009). "Protect nuclear whistleblowers". The National Law Journal. 
  18. ^ NRC says 'fear of retaliation' lingers at nuke plant North County Times, March 02, 2010.

External links[edit]