Professionalism/George Galatis and Millstone 1

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
Jump to navigation Jump to search

George Galatis was a senior engineer at the Millstone Unit 1 nuclear power plant who became a whistleblower after reporting safety problems at the plant regarding reactor refueling procedures and Northeast Utilities' company-wide safety culture to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Background[edit]

George Galatis[edit]

George Galatis was a senior nuclear engineer at Northeast Utilities who encountered a moral and professional dilemma during a routine refueling procedure. He was featured on the cover of TIME magazine in 1996. Since then he switched careers to be a nuclear safety advocate and whistleblower adviser.

Northeast Utilities and Millstone 1[edit]

Galatis: The pool could boil...We'd better report this to the NRC now. Betancourt: But you do that and you're dogmeat.

Time Magazine, June 2001

Millstone 1 was a boiling water reactor in Waterford, Connecticut which was completed in October 1970. In March 1992 Galatis wanted to know about their refueling procedure. Every 18 months the reactor is completely shut down to replace the fuel rods in the reactor core. During this procedure the fuel rods are cooled directly outside of the reactor for a specified period of time while completely submerged under water. Once they have been cooled according to technical specifications enforced by the Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC), they will be disposed of in spent fuel pools. Because this was an older facility, its license with the NRC required that the fuel rods be replaced 1/3 at a time and cooled for a period of 250 hours before they were loaded into the fuel pools. However Northeast Utilities [1] was only waiting a period of 65 hours and was replacing all of the fuel rods at once, an emergency procedure. These highly radioactive, 250 degree Fahrenheit fuel rods could overwhelm the cooling system and cause the pool to boil, releasing radioactive steam into the atmosphere. Northeast Utilities did this because when a reactor is shut down for refueling it must continue to provide energy to its customers, which costs about $500,000 a day. Each refueling lasts about 2 weeks, totaling 7 million. However these pools were not meant to hold this heat load.

Galatis also needed a replacement part for a heat exchanger in the spent fuel cooling system which required the heat load. However this safety report didn’t exist. With a lack of design calculations, he was unsure if the replacement part was suitable for its application.

According to the above quote, George Betancourt, one of Galatis's colleagues, knew how the company would react to whistle blowing. Northeast Utilities had a reputation for cutting corners and firing employees who raised safety concerns. An internal Millstone report found that there was a culture of failing to follow procedure and management were willfully non compliant. A study by the NRC found that the number of safety and harassment allegations filed by workers at Northeast is three times the industry average. Two dozen employees claimed that they were fired because they raised safety concerns. Despite this culture of noncompliance, Galatis decided to move forward with his concerns to the NRC.

The NRC[edit]

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was created as an independent agency by Congress in 1974 to regulate commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials. [2]Formerly, the Atomic Energy Commission handled issues of nuclear power, but critics declared that the AEC did not have rigorous enough regulations in several areas, including those surrounding reactor safety. These responsibilities were handed over to the NRC, which today focuses on reactor and material safety oversight, licenses and other documentation, and waste disposal. [3]

Investigations[edit]

After Galatis first brought up the allegations, he met with the Senior Resident Inspector at Millstone 1 to discuss the management concerns, specifying problems in procedural adherence, operational conceit, management integrity and lack of NRC policy enforcement. When these notes were passed on to the NRC, a note from the Region I Branch Chief was included asserting "I don't see much to go on here, other than his [Galatis’] opinions.” There were some more interviews with some more inspectors, but the case wasn’t moving forward. By spring 1995, staff members were starting to get restless, and as reported by a Region I Engineer, the Branch Chief was “eager to start pursuing wrapping up George's [GALATIS] issues because he had been so persistent in pursuing some of these concerns and he [Region I Branch Chief] was worried about it blowing up into something bigger, I think.” [4]

But something happened in August 1995 that finally pushed the case forward to a high priority. Ernest Hadley, an employment and wrongful-termination lawyer with a Career of representing whistleblowers, filed a petition on behalf of Galatis re-stating his allegations and calling for action from the NRC. The NRC Office of Investigations spent the rest of that year conducting investigations and doing follow-ups, and as stated in the response to Hadley’s petition: “...the staff’s follow up of spent fuel pool issues raised by the Petitioners led, in part, to the identification of a broad spectrum of configuration management concerns that had to be corrected before the Commission allowed restart of any Millstone unit.” [5] In particular, they found significant problems with the way Northeast Utilities and the Millstone Units handled documentation. Not only was Northeast Utilities failing to send proper documentation of their procedures to the NRC, they were not following procedures dictated by the licenses that the NRC sent to them.

Outcomes[edit]

In January of 1996, the NRC added all three Millstone plants to its watch list. All three were temporarily shut down, and would not be allowed to restart until the NRC finished comprehensive safety analyses and Northeast Utilities met the managerial and procedural safety regulations. Units 2 and 3 would eventually start back up. [5] In December of 1997, the NRC fined Northeast Utilities $2.1 million for multiple federal violations, that largest fine that it had ever imposed. Northeast Utilities did not appeal the fine. Many critics of the nuclear industry complained that the fine was not large enough and argued that Northeast Utilities' license should have been revoked.[6] Finally, on July 17, 1998, Millstone 1 permanently ceased operations and began the nuclear plant decommissioning process, predicted to be finished by 2057. [7]

George Galatis quit his job at Millstone in 1996 after agreeing on a settlement package with Northeast Utilities. Critics of Northeast Utilities and the NRC claimed that Galatis would not have received a settlement had he not gone public.[8] Galatis cited workplace harassment as the reason for his resignation, including being passed over for meaningful assignments, referred to human resources, and ignored or avoided by coworkers after he went public. Blanche commented that Galatis has been effectively removed from the nuclear industry, since the nuclear industry will not hire whistleblowers.[9] Even though Galatis could no longer work at Northeast Utilities, the NRC updated their safety culture policy in response to the abuse he faced. They added a policy to protect whistleblowers from retaliation so that people would be less intimidated to raise safety concerns and would face less blowback for doing so. [10] Also, in the years following the case, the NRC took special care to implement new procedures to better ensure the safety of nuclear plants, with a specific focus on improving the licensing system, since discrepancies between the license and site procedures had been one of the largest problems with Millstone 1. One of these changes was to conduct special team and design inspections at select plants to ensure that the sites were operating under the terms of their licenses and that the plants were sending the proper information about site processes back to the NRC. Another change was the creation of a Process Improvement Plan, a 100 action plan intended to fix problems in the licensing process. [11]

Implications for the nuclear industry[edit]

The NRC harshly criticized Northeast Utilities for its management in its report. The NRC's executive director, L. Joseph Callan, said that the safety violations were "indicative of a deficient safety culture, fostered by plant and corporate management, which neither set high safety standards nor actively encouraged workers to identify and report safety issues or act upon issues when they were reported."[6]

Similar Incidents[edit]

Three Mile Island Accident, 1979[edit]

Poor safety procedures and human error led to the accident at Three Mile Island. when a coolant valve became stuck open, resulting in a loss of coolant from the reactor. As the situation worsened, plant operators failed to recognize that the plant was losing coolant due to ambiguous or hidden indicator lights, and took actions that inadvertently worsened the situation, including manually overriding the emergency cooling system.[12] Eventually, a partial nuclear meltdown occurred, leading to a temporary evacuation of the surrounding residential area for 12 days. An NRC investigation into the accident found that the amount of radioactive material released was not a health hazard, but public fears of the nuclear industry were heightened and several nuclear plants were immediately shut down.[13]

Fukushima Daiichi Disaster, 2011[edit]

The Fukushi Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan was severely damaged by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and 15-metre tsunami on March 11, 2011. The damage disabled the power supply and cooling systems in the plant, resulting in a series of hydrogen explosions and three reactor meltdowns. Over 100,000 people were quickly evacuated from a 20 km radius around the plant. Because of this, no radiation casualties have been reported, although some workers received doses of radiation that exceeded their lifetime recommendations. The cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi plant is underway and is expected to take decades and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.[14]

Evidence has arisen since the disaster suggesting that it could have been prevented, including preliminary tsunami computer models conducted in 2008 that indicated that the tsunami risk to the plant had been underestimated. These concerns weren't followed up and were only reported to NISA in March of 2011. Additionally, TEPCO did not follow international state-of-the-art safety procedures, including taking simple steps to prevent tsunami damage such as moving emergency power supplies to higher ground or building waterproof connections between emergency systems.[15]

References[edit]

  1. Pooley, E. (2001, June 24). Nuclear Warriors. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,135575,00.html
  2. About NRC. (2016, April 05). http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc.html
  3. History. (2015, November 04). http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/history.html
  4. Goneconto, G., Raspa, R., & Watkins, R. A. (1996). NRC HANDLING OF ISSUES RELATED TO REFUELING OPERATIONS AT MILLSTONE UNIT 1: Case No. 96-05S (USA, U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commision, Office of the Inspector General). http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1526/ML15265A372.pdf
  5. a b Collins, S. J. (1999, July 27). [Letter to E. Hadley]. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/petitions-2-206/directors-decision/1999/dd-99-09.pdf
  6. a b Rabinovitz, Jonathan (1997). Government Fine on Nuclear Plant Is Largest Ever. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/12/11/nyregion/government-fine-on-nuclear-plant-is-largest-ever.html
  7. Millstone - Unit 1. (2015, February 6). http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/decommissioning/power-reactor/millstone-unit-1.html
  8. Remez, Michael (1996). Millstone Whistleblower Quits Job After Settlement. http://articles.courant.com/1996-06-21/news/9606210659_1_nrc-critical-mass-energy-project-long-island-sound
  9. Choiniere, Paul (1996). Galatis settles with Northeast Utilities, resigns. The Day. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1915&dat=19960614&id=ghIiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=C3MFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1112,4068722&hl=en
  10. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission., Office of the Secretary. (1994). Draft policy statement, "Freedom of employees in the nuclear industry to raise safety and compliance concerns without fear of retaliation." Washington, D.C.: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/regulatory/allegations/scwe-frn-5-14-96.pdf
  11. Thompson, H. L. Jr. (1997, February 12). Millstone Lessons Learned Report, Part 2: Policy Issues [Memorandum]. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  12. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2014). Backgrounder on the Three Mile Island Accident. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/3mile-isle.html
  13. History Channel (1991). Three Mile Island. The Reader's Companion to American History. http://www.history.com/topics/three-mile-island
  14. World Nuclear Organization (2016). Fukushima Accident. http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/fukushima-accident.aspx
  15. Acton, J. and Hibbs, M. (2012). Why Fukushima Was Preventable. Carnegie Endowment For International Peace. http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/03/06/why-fukushima-was-preventable/a0i7