Tuesday, May 21, 2013

OSHA orders reinstatement of Wolf Creek whistle-blower

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2013 at 11:36 AM

A fired employee goes back to work at Wolf Creek
  • File
  • A fired employee goes back to work at Wolf Creek

There's more bad news this week surrounding the closest nuclear reactor to Kansas City after regulators determined that a contractor for the Wolf Creek Generating Station was fired in retaliation for calling out unsafe practices there.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on May 15 published an order to reinstate an unnamed employee for Enercon, a contractor for the nuclear power plant 80 miles away near Burlington, Kansas. Enercon, which does engineering work at Wolf Creek, had workers dig a trench directly over pipes that circulate water to keep the reactor working within normal temperatures. The trench was dug in order to install a security fence. But the employee noticed that the trench was dug deep enough and close enough to those water pipes that it violated safety protocols about how much soil should cover the pipes.

When the employee reported the issue to management, he was told to come up with an engineering report that said it was fine to fill those trenches with concrete.

The trouble there was that the employee and other engineers knew putting concrete over the pipes was a bad idea. The employee was fired January 20, 2012.

Enercon now has to give the job back to the fired worker, plus $261,152 in damages that includes back pay and compensatory 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," Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Kansas City, wrote in a statement issued May 20.

The OSHA order is the latest in a string of troubling news for Wolf Creek, which is owned in part by Kansas City Power & Light Co.

The reactor has experienced long-term shutdowns and has come under increased scrutiny by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the last two years. The reactor's owners are also suing another vendor for shoddy work that led to one of the shutdowns last year, which lasted 73 days.

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