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Do Nuclear Workers Dare?

Whistleblowing case has ramifications for an entire industry.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2010

DOL administrative law judge in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, my client also filed a complaint in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, in Southern California. Invensys countersued, alleging that its proprietary information had been breached. The NRC sent a letter cautioning Invensys against efforts to deter Robinson from disclosing safety violations to the commission. Attorneys for both sides agreed to put the DOL case on hold while the state lawsuit made its way through the court system in Orange County.

My client complained that virtually every programmatic control established in Triconex’ nuclear QA and project procedures had been violated on the NPPD test. Alleged violations included failures to: verify and validate project application software; establish configuration control; document and disposition testing deficiencies; document changes to the test procedure; maintain a test log; and complete and understand mandatory project training.

I took deposition testimony from an Invensys official who recalled that Robinson had reported violations of specifications or quality controls on the NPPD project. The official conceded that the NPPD project involved instrumentation and software that had “potential safety implications” because it would be used “to control the feed water” in a nuclear power plant, Cooper station. Also, an Invensys auditor testified that the NPPD test was not properly documented, that some documents were missing or unsigned. As the auditor said, it’s important to have proper documentation of the development and testing of “instruments that are going to be used by nuclear power plant operators.”

NPPD provided a document titled “Analysis of Abnormal Operational Transients” that said, regarding the reactor vessel level control system: “In the event that the control room becomes inaccessible, it shall be possible to bring the reactor from power range operation to a hot shutdown condition by manipulation of the local controls and equipment that are available outside the control room.” The analysis was based on assumptions that included: “The station is operating initially at full power …[and] personnel evacuate the control room taking time only for their immediate actions within the control room that can be accomplished in seconds.”

NPPD’s project manager, in an e-mail circulated among the utility’s executives, reported “a significant number of procedural errors and test methodologies errors, which should have been easily identified during a pre-FAT test run.” This helped persuade NPPD officials to make a two-day visit to Irvine where, according to an NPPD follow-up report, they arrived at several findings:

• Multiple examples of failure to follow internal procdures;

• Documentation issues;

• Lack of complete pre-FAT;

• Lack of sufficient evidence of V&V (verification and validation) activities as required by procedure;

• Inadequate resources assigned to project ( e.g., time-pressure aspect, schedule pressure, lack of QA oversight); and

• Hands-off approach and lack of accountability from the Triconex project manager.

In light of such concerns, the NPPD’s procurement department sent a letter regarding the reactor vessel control project, which said, “This letter serves as formal notification…. Due to concerns raised by Action Request Report (ARR) 2005-460, we are requesting that these materials not be shipped until such time as the