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Shaw Group ordered to protect whistleblowers after firing of TVA nuclear worker

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The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ordered the Shaw Group, a Fortune 500 engineering and construction firm based in Louisiana, to improve the way it responds to safety complaints from nuclear plant workers.

The NRC's order follows a ruling last year by the U.S. Labor Department that Shaw Group subsidiary Stone & Webster broke federal law when it fired James Speegle, a painter foreman at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama, six years ago.

Speegle had tried to call attention to substandard protective paint coatings being applied to critical parts of the plant's cooling systems. Faulty coatings can cause paint debris to clog emergency cooling pumps and compromise the reactor's ability to shut down safely in the event of an accident.

"This will make it a lot easier for Shaw Group's workers to speak out about nuclear safety," said Speegle's attorney David J. Marshall. "The NRC's order also forces the company's upper-level management to take responsibility for any future retaliation against whistleblowers."

Stone & Webster fired Speegle two days after he reported the paint problem to the NRC. At the time, the company was scrambling to finish an $800 million contract with the TVA to restart the plant's Unit 1 reactor, which had been closed since a major fire broke out there in 1975.

TVA later kicked Stone & Webster off the project and spent millions re-doing the work Speegle had complained about. In January 2009, Stone & Webster paid $6.2 million to settle a federal False Claims Act case related to its work at TVA nuclear plants in Alabama and Tennessee. The government charged that from 2003 to 2006 the company failed to maintain required documentation and provided false reports to TVA understating the number and severity of employee injuries in order to boost safety-related performance fees.

Speegle's successful lawsuit prompted the NRC to take action. The agency ordered Shaw Group to issue a written statement to all nuclear employees discussing the DOL ruling in the Speegle case and identifying ways workers can raise safety concerns. It also required the company to set up an internal review board to scrutinize serious disciplinary actions, to survey its nuclear employees on safety concerns, and to train nuclear supervisors and managers in creating a safety-conscious work environment. The company faces civil and criminal penalties if it fails to implement the measures.

The Shaw Group provides construction and maintenance services to nuclear power plants across the U.S. and is also involved in a reactor construction initiative in China. The company is working with General Electric to build a factory in Lake Charles, La. that will manufacture components for nuclear power plants, a project that has received millions in federal tax credits

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re: Shaw Group ordered to protect whistleblowers after firing of

September 27, 2010

It's hard to pity any federal agency but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission finds itself between a rock and a hard spot in dealing with a sister agency, TVA, an Administration pet.

TVA has been hard to live with since 1933 and has proved its stubbornness and incompetence particularly in the nuclear area. First, TVA grossly over-planned the number of reactors needed and then started on a haphazard construction plan. Most of the nuclear plants went unfinished or were abandoned.

Ratepayers today still are paying about $20 billion for TVA boondoggles. The NRC constantly is after the TVA mostly for safety and training laxness. Whistle blowers don't stand much of a chance at TVA.

Here’s how it works at the TVA; an employee reports to his supervisor a safety hazard or an unsafe operating condition. After a few times reporting safety incidents the employee becomes uncomfortable and either shuts up, is transferred or is intimidated to retire early.

This was the case of a nuclear plant operator who after transferring to a steam plant feared for his own safety after being presented a hangman’s noose in his work desk.

He also told of instances where some did not seem to take their job seriously and let a cleanup person shut down a nuclear unit. Seasonal decorations particularly at Halloween were displayed all over the console area.

Other former workers reported safety violations at the Colbert steam plant to no avail. One was quoted as saying it was the worst workplace experience he had ever had; much fudging of the production figures and getting around the opacity rules by running units at night.

The problems at TVA are endemic; there is no accountability. TVA ratepayers must take and take it some more from the TVA with absolutely no power to contain the TVA monstrosity. Only the Congress can do that but it has no desire to do so because there are no congressional appropriations involved.

Ernest Norsworthy
http://norsworthyopinion.com

re: Shaw Group ordered to protect whistleblowers after firing of

I have a simular problem. I also work in the Nuclear Industry. Do you know of any good lawyers in Georgia or South Carolina wo are well versed in NRC and DOL regulations?

Thank you,
Lisa Powell

re: Shaw Group ordered to protect whistleblowers after firing of

One point about the accuracy of the article - Having worked at TVA in the late 70's and early 80's, Browns Ferry Unit 1 started back up after the 1975 fire and ran until the early 1980s when it shut down because of required, extensive modifications dictated by the 3-Mile Island accident.