Thursday, December 28, 2006

Foster V Zeh, Whistle Blower Hammered By The NRC-CHILLING EFFECT AMONG EMPLOYEES at Nuclear Reactor Facilities

Foster V. Zeh should be a hero within the Green Community, groups like Riverkeeper, IPSEC and Greenpeace should have used whatever it took to protect him for coming forward, but that did not happen, he quickly faded out of the limelight, only to have the NRC use him as a symbol to others within the nuclear industry thinking of coming forward to shine light and attention on Indian Point, Entergy and the nuclear industry as a whole. His story needs retold in light of the NRC's 54 Page report that gives Entergy 30 days to resolve issues that have created a chilling pall among employees who are now AFRAID, even FEARFUL to come forward with their concerns regarding both safety and security at the Indian Point plant...the document and its demands are laughable, as the NRC itself has shown it is far more concerned with keeping its licensees dirty laundry outside of the public domain, and that they are willing to burn a whistle blower at the stake to send their own chilling message down to the employees at Nuclear Facilities throughout America.

How many times have we all heard about the nuclear industry's mock security drills, modeled (supposedly) to keep us safe, secure, and alive? After each and every one, the licensee is given a Gold Star, and we are told they performed within acceptable parameters...well, for starters those security drills are not performed out in the field most of the time, but instead played in a room with observers, and the players moving their magnetic pieces around a simulation board. Scenarios are created and set up that allow the licensees to WIN, to receive their GOLD STARS in a wrong sighted attempt to give the public a FALSE SENSE of Security.

Enter one Foster V. Zeh...former security guard at Indian Point, working at both reactors 2 and 3. What Foster V. Zeh did was simple...he disobeyed the unwritten but often exercised rule in these simulated attacks. He played for real, played for keeps instead of playing to let Entergy win their Gold Star. Less than 60 seconds into the simulation that eventually saw to his termination, he'd SUCCESSFULLY gained access to the now leaking Spent Fuel Rod Storage Facilities, was in a position to cause that worst case scenario that the NRC and Entergy falsely and maliciously tell us cannot happen...Foster V. Zeh was in a position to breach and do significant damage to the containment facility, potentially starting Indian Point down the road to a Chernobyl type incident of biblical proportions.

OH MY GAWD, what a great learning experience, what an opportunity Entergy and the NRC have been presented with...because of this brave man, they can actually participate in a mock security drill where anything and everything IS GOING WRONG. Hold the phones, stop the presses as that is NOT WHAT OCCURRED. Instead of seizing on this opportunity, Zeh's boss called a TIME OUT! While the NCR's observer stood around with his clipboard, Zeh was taken out into the hall, screamed and yelled at, and TAKEN OFF THE TEAM, replaced by someone willing to play by the unwritten rule that the licensee MUST WIN at all costs, even if that meant deliberately THROWING THE GAME.

Foster Zeh took his concerns to the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in a letter dated December 20, 2002. That letter is a veritable smoking gun even today as we look at the NRC's 54 page letter and 30 day DECREE that instructs Entergy to come up with a plan that encourages rather than discourages employees to come forward with their complaints and worries about safety and security at the two reactors. For brevity, I'll only share some of the highlights from this letter:

I participated in a planned security drill at Indian Point 2 in mid August of this year. During the drill, I was able to gain access to the spent fuel pool building within 60 seconds. In earlier drills, the mock assault team was also able to gain quick access to the spent fuel building – on one occasion, in 36 seconds – and simulate placing explosives throughout the building. Had the mock assault been real, the damage would have been catastrophic. (A February 2001 NRC report - NUREG 1738, reveals that the loss of life and illnesses from a spent fuel pool release would be significant and health impacts would be felt hundreds of miles away.) Regrettably, the NRC did not penalize Entergy or Wackenhut for this poor showing. In fact, the NRC passed Indian Point 2 security with high marks.

In light of the vulnerability of the spent fuel storage buildings, which house much of the high level radioactive material on site, one would expect the highest level of security. However, these buildings are lacking proper security and are extremely vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Foster V Zeh's letter then goes on to include a summary of Security Concerns, of which I share here only the more disturbing ones:

Most security guards believe they can not defend the plant against a terrorist attack for the following reasons:

Guards believe that they are not properly armed with weapons to defeat attackers.

Guards admit that they are under-qualified and under-trained with respect to gun handling qualifications, physical fitness tests, and training exercises.

Guards are being hired with very little experience; in some cases guards are hired who meet just the minimum requirement of possessing a pistol permit.

Guards reported that qualifying exams for carrying weapons had been rigged, in some cases, to ensure guards could pass.

Guards say that security drills are carefully staged to ensure that mock attackers would be repelled.

Guards forced to work overtime (i.e. forced to work 6 or 7 straight days involving 12
hour to 16 hour shifts, (even when ill).

Guards suffer from a high fatigue level.

The facilities that house the highly dangerous irradiated or “spent” fuel at Indian Point are vulnerable to attack. In a recent exercise at the main reactor campus, one security guard was able to penetrate security on five occasions and was able to carry a mock satchel charge of explosives into the highly radioactive spent fuel pool three times – without being challenged by security

• The Code of Federal Regulations pertaining to safeguards information has been violated numerous times.

• Security guards are being suspended and terminated by Wackenhut and Entergy without proper representation and cause due to the fact that they are bringing serious security concerns to the attention of management. Note-security now handled at least partially by presidential hopeful Rudi Guiliani.

A “chilled” environment exists at the plant and security guards do not feel safe speaking with management about their concerns.
• Entergy Nuclear management have asked security personnel to alter incident reports so that an incident becomes a less serious offense and non-reportable

• Company officials sugarcoat and cover up real problems regarding the missing handgun incident, forging documents, giving guards a third chance to pass re-qualifying tests, watering down mock attack drills

• Numerous recommendations made by guards to improve security have not been implemented resulting in the same problems resurfacing time and again.

• Many incidents involving sexism, racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.

This entire list of summary highlights is very disturbing, but none more so than the one which alleges a "Chilled Environment" existing at the Entergy plant...does that not sound eerily familiar in light of the recently published 54 pages report? Almost four years to the day that Foster V. Zeh made his allegations, they are finally coming home to roost...or ARE THEY?

Reasonable people would think that Foster V. Zeh would now be a vindicated Whistle Blower, rewarded for bringing serious problems to the attention of his superiors, and the larger oversight community (NRC), and in that assumption one would be horribly WRONG. The NRC's 54 page reports talks about the "CHILLING EFFECT" that Zeh brought up in 2002, says they want to see CHANGE AT THE FACILITY, yet secretly, outside the public eye they are sending a completely DIFFERENT MESSAGE...if you go public, if you blow the whistle, if you air our DIRTY LAUNDRY in public, we will HURT YOU BADLY.

You see, Foster V. Zeh lost his job, and has spent these past four years being hounded, and trying to resolve the issues through a process called Alternative Dispute Resolution...some have said this is where they send you after sternly letting you know they could imprison you if they wanted to. On June 20th, 2006 the case (Foster V. Zeh !A-05-051) was finally resolved. We would hope, that the NRC took serious sanctions against Entergy, and we again would be disappointed. Instead, they SILENCED THIS WHISTLE BLOWER. Here is the skinny on what Foster V. Zeh had to agree to.

1. He agrees to NEVER AGAIN seek employment with ANY NRC licensee.

2. He agrees to have no involvements with NRC licensees activities for a period of THREE YEARS from the date of this order. (, just when Entergy is going for a relicensing, the BIG SMOKING GUN WHISTLE BLOWER is forced to SHUT UP and STAY QUIET?)

3. He agrees not disclose Safeguards Information regarding the Indian Point security program to any unauthorized individuals. (In short, no more TELLING ANY ONE, INCLUDING THE PRESS THE TRUTHS HE KNOWS. )

In exchange for this, the NRC has agreed NOT TO SEEK FURTHER SANCTIONS (as in prosecution) against Foster V. Seh. Even more disturbing about this agreement, was how it was kept SECRET, and for a very good reason. You see, Foster V. Zeh is the smoking gun that the ANTI Nuclear side needs, his testimony and statements on record at a public hearing on relicensing would be incredibly damaging, but he has been silenced for a period of three years. Included as a part of that hearing was the right of STAKEHOLDERS to appeal of intervene in this agreement, which conveniently expired 20 days AFTER IT WAS ISSUED, and quietly slide into the appropriate but mostly out of site registry.

The reporters and network who broke this story originally back in 2003 need to revisit it, for Foster V. Zeh, and for those of us in the stakeholder community who need his story told openly and publicly for the record when the relicensing hearings begin.

We thank the Fink On Entergy Blog for suggesting we look into this story.

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