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Firm Told to Rehire Nuke Whistleblower

Friday, May 24, 2013

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A senior engineer who was fired after raising safety concerns during construction at a Kansas nuclear power plant must be reinstated and compensated more than $260,000, federal regulators have ordered.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Enercon Services to rehire the licensed professional civil and structural engineer who was terminated Jan. 30, 2012, and pay $261,152.69 in damages and back salary.

Enercon, based in Kennesaw, GA, is a design engineering firm that also provides industrial coating and lining services to a variety of industries. The company, whose services include engineering support for nuclear plants, has two dozen offices across the United States, as well as offices overseas.

Breaches Reported

According to OSHA, the engineer was fired "for reporting breaches of minimum soil coverage requirements for emergency service water piping and for refusing to provide Enercon Services an engineering justification for the use of concrete as backfill over the piping."

Wolf Creek

OSHA said the engineer was fired days after refusing to approve a design change that he considered inappropriate at Wolf Creek Generating Station. His employer disputes the charge.

The issue began when a trench was being dug to bury a grounding cable for a new security fence being constructed for the emergency service water pump house at Wolf Creek Generating Station, in Burlington, KS. The 11,800-acre plant, first licensed in 1985, is owned by Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp.

According to OSHA, the trench encroached on the minimum soil coverage requirement for the pipes, necessitating that it be backfilled to bring the plant back in compliance.

"The evidence shows that a manager for Enercon Services proposed to backfill the pipes with concrete before the arrival of [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] inspectors, but that the engineer refused to implement the design change because he believed concrete fill was insufficient," OSHA said in a release.

"The engineer was fired a few days later."

Wolf Creek eventually used cohesive soil as backfill over the pipes, OSHA said.

Appeal Planned

Enercon disputed the allegations in an emailed statement Thursday (May 23).

"Enercon objects to, and is appealing, the finding of reasonable cause issued by OSHA after its preliminary review," the statement said. "Enercon welcomes the opportunity for a full hearing to establish that the termination was for legitimate business reasons, and not for reporting safety concerns."

The statement said Enercon, an employee-owned company, "maintains and promotes a safety-conscious work environment" and that the company's "policies, as well as its demonstrated practice, is [sic] to encourage and protect employees who report safety concerns."

Parties in the case have 30 days to file an appeal.

OSHA's database shows no activity involving Enercon Services in the past decade.

'Right and Responsibility'

OSHA found that Enercon's actions violated the whistleblower provisions of the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA). OSHA does not identify whistleblowers.

Waterford 3 Nuclear Plant
Enercon Services

Enercon Services provides engineering support to nuclear plants nationwide. The company's project portfolio includes power uprate implementation at Entergy's Waterford 3 Nuclear Power Plant.

Companies providing services to nuclear power plants are subject to the ERA, and may not discharge or discriminate against any employee because he or she notified an employer of an alleged violation of the ERA or the Atomic Energy Act of l954.

In the Wolf Creek case, OSHA ordered reinstatement of the engineer to his/her former position with all pay, benefits and rights and pay back wages of $206,360; interest currently estimated at $4,142.69; compensatory damages of $50,650; and reasonable attorney fees. The ERA does not provide for an award of punitive damages.

"Professionals who work in the nuclear power industry have a right and a responsibility to express their professional opinion and report safety-related concerns," said Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Kansas City.

"The department's responsibility is to protect all employees from retaliation for exercising basic worker rights. The ERA protects the workers who, in turn, protect the public."


Tagged categories: Business management; Engineers; Health and safety; Nuclear Power Plants; OSHA

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