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  • Voinovich Chides Company for Piketon Plant Meetings

    Senator Wants Full Participation in Federal Probe

    Sunday, January 16, 2000


    Compiled by Roger K. Lowe and Jonathan Riskind of the Dispatch Washington Bureau.

    Sen. George V. Voinovich was angered by a report last week that some employees at southern Ohio's uranium-enrichment plant felt that managers were trying to stifle their participation in the federal investigation of health and safety problems at the facility.

    On Thursday, the Ohio Republican wrote a letter to Joseph Nemec, president of Bechtel Jacobs, to express his displeasure. Bechtel Jacobs is the contractor in charge of cleaning up the grounds and buildings at the plant.

    Voinovich said he's especially troubled that some workers who attended employee-management sessions about the investigation on Jan. 5 interpreted the meetings' message as "look busy and shut your mouth.''

    Nemec indicated in a letter to Voinovich on Nov. 30 that Bechtel Jacobs would use the federal investigation to improve performance and safety, the senator wrote.

    "However, I am troubled by any employees' perception that your instructions were a directive to not fully cooperate with the Department of Energy's investigation at the facility,'' Voinovich wrote. "I fear this interpretation will prevent the free and open participation by employees that is necessary for DOE's oversight team to complete any investigation with success.''

    Nemec said last week that the only sentiment Bechtel Jacobs tried to impress on employees was to be cooperative with investigators.

    He said that a request for employees to fill out forms relaying investigators' questions to management was meant only as a tool for addressing any problems, but that the request was rescinded and a subsequent meeting was held with employees to clear the air.

    Bechtel Jacobs controls fewer than 300 employees at the plant, but a number of them used to work in the enrichment plant 20-30 years ago. They are considered to be potentially valuable sources of information for the probe into allegations that Cold War-era workers were exposed to highly radioactive and chemical elements that could lead to cancers and other illnesses.

    USEC, the privatized federal corporation that runs the enrichment plant, employs about 2,100 people and has said its employees have been urged to cooperate fully.

    For his part, Voinovich said he intends to discuss the issue further with Nemec when the company executive is in Washington next month.

    Voinovich and employees weren't the only people disturbed by the Bechtel Jacobs' sessions. U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson also wrote a stern letter to Nemec last week chiding him for the affair.

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