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Do Nuclear Workers Dare?

Whistleblowing case has ramifications for an entire industry.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2010

a worst-case scenario, such a state of affairs could lead to some very bad news for the utility, its vendors, employees, neighbors and other stakeholders. As we all learned from the Three Mile Island calamity, one reactor accident can damage the entire industry. President Reagan’s secretary of labor, Elizabeth Dole, once wrote that, if nuclear workers are “coerced and intimidated into remaining silent when they should speak out, the results can be catastrophic.”

Invensys’ attorneys have pursued a legal strategy that they believe best protects the interests of their client, a multinational corporation. But who will safeguard the interests of America’s nuclear electric utilities—and the public interest—if federal authorities decide the law doesn’t protect employees of nuclear technology contractors who disclose health and safety violations? If a legal black hole exists, U.S. nuclear utilities might do themselves a favor by helping persuade Congress to strengthen the ERA so that all nuclear workers will be unambiguously protected from retaliation whenever they report hazardous conditions.

There’s no crystal ball to foretell what courts and Congress will do in the future. In any event, enlightened utilities can protect their own future best interests by acting as FPL and the NPPD did. That is, plant owners can protect themselves by consistently applying Safety Conscious Work Environment practices to their contract workers as well as their direct employees—and by closely monitoring vendors’ work and refusing to accept substandard performance.