False Safety Tests Lead to Firings

Monday, September 12, 2011 @ 04:09 PM gHale


A series of investigations into falsified safety test inspections at the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Scriba, NY, resulted in four workers losing their jobs and 34 facing disciplinary measures, a plant spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors said one of the fired workers pleaded guilty to falsifying tests of safety equipment at the plant.

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In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) notified the owner of the plant, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, it could face civil actions.

Officials handed over the results of the three investigations to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Syracuse, which brought criminal charges against Michael McCarrick, 56, of Oswego, a former radiation protection technician at the plant. McCarrick admitted to falsifying records relating to more than two dozen plant workers.

In his guilty plea, he admitted he failed to adequately perform tests to make sure the workers’ emergency respirators fit and sealed properly, and then falsely documented they did.

The plant must refit workers’ emergency respirators every year. The respirators, which protect against chemical releases or other fumes during emergencies, must fit snugly, and the fit can change as workers gain or lose weight or otherwise change.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Benedict said on 32 documented occasions between 2006 and 2009, McCarrick falsely claimed he had completed such tests. Benedict said NRC special agents investigated the incidents.

McCarrick pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating the Atomic Energy Act. He could receive up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine at his Jan. 10 sentencing. No known injuries occurred as a result of the falsified tests.

The NRC also found two unidentified “staff level individuals” acted with “careless disregard” by not following through on their suspicions the respirator fit tests were inadequate.

The NRC informed Entergy the second investigation found McCarrick deliberately failed to document required surveillance of air samples or to make sure workers leaving the radiologically controlled area went through contamination monitors.

The third investigation found McCarrick and another radiation protection technician failed to conduct other leak testing and surveillance duties.

McCarrick was the only worker charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. However, the NRC notified Entergy it could face civil action pending the result of either an enforcement conference with the NRC or a mediation session, whichever the company chooses.

Entergy spokeswoman Tammy Holden said the plant conducted an internal investigation in June 2009 after learning the NRC had received a phone call alleging a potential violation at the plant.

Most of the 34 disciplined workers should have known their “fit tests” for the respirators were either not done or were incomplete, Holden said. She said the company removed those workers from the site during the investigation and later received either suspensions of pay or verbal or written warnings. They also underwent retraining.

Holden stressed the masks rarely get use, and none of the workers who had inadequate fit tests did any work during that period that would have required the masks.

“At no point was there any risk to the public health or safety at any time during this process,” she said.



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