Jury: Worker Covered up Damage at Ohio Nuke Plant

August 29, 2008

Jurors convicted a former nuclear plant engineer of hiding information from government regulators about the worst corrosion ever found at a U.S. reactor.

Prosecutors said Andrew Siemaszko and two other workers lied in 2001 so the Davis-Besse plant along Lake Erie could delay a shutdown for a safety inspection. Months later, inspectors found an acid leak that nearly ate through the reactor’s 6 inch-thick steel cap.

Siemaszko covered up the damage to the plant’s reactor vessel head and lied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal jury said.

It’s not clear how close the plant, midway between Toledo and Cleveland, was to an accident.

Siemaszko faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. He was convicted on three of five counts, including concealing material information from the government. The jury cleared him on two counts of making false statements.

Following the discovery of the leak, the NRC beefed up inspections and training and began requiring detailed records of its discussions with plant operators.

Siemaszko’s attorneys said the plant’s owner set him up as a scapegoat because he spoke out about safety concerns. They will consider an appeal.

“I’m disappointed,” Siemaszko said. When asked what message the verdict sends, he said: “Do not go against a big company.”

Siemaszko was responsible for making sure the reactor vessel head was cleaned and inspected. He said he was wrongly fired and that he had told supervisors the reactor needed to be cleaned. He said managers rejected his requests.

Defense attorney Billie Pirner Garde said nuclear workers will be less likely to raise concerns about safety.

“This makes the nuclear industry less safe,” she said.

The plant’s operator, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., said Siemaszko deserved to be fired and should have caught the damage.

FirstEnergy paid a record $28 million in fines a year ago while avoiding federal charges. It also spent $600 million making repairs and buying replacement power while the plant was closed from early 2002 until 2004.

None of the company’s senior executives was charged in the investigation.

Another former worker at the Davis-Besse plant was sentenced to three years’ probation in May for concealing information from the government. A private contractor was acquitted.

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