Paul M. Blanch
June 1, 2000
Mr. Ellis Merschoff
Dear Mr. Merschoff:
It was a pleasure meeting with you and your staff at the public NRC meeting on May 19, 2000. I appreciated the opportunity to speak at the public meeting and to have the time provided for follow-up questions.
I would like to share with you some of my thoughts and observations from the meeting and related discussions with some of the employees and attendees.
Prior to the meeting I approached both Mr. Oatley and Mr. Rueger of Pacific Gas & Electric to introduce myself and to offer any assistance based on our experience with Millstone and other locations that have experienced similar safety culture problems to Diablo. There was no apparent interest by Diablo management to explore any potential paths other than cosmetic solutions--more surveys.
Subsequent to the meeting I had a discussion with one PG&E management employee and asked if was any interest in discussing the approaches used to improve the safety culture at Millstone and at Byron. Again, this offer was rejected.
You are aware that I have made many efforts to assist in improving the situation at Diablo and all of these have been rejected. These efforts commenced more than three years ago and included contacts from the highest executives in the nuclear industry. Over the years I have shared these efforts with some members of the NRC/NRR staff.
As a result of information I have received from Diablo Canyon employees it is very clear that a “chilling effect” has been created by the firing of Mr. Aiken, the details of which are now a matter of public record with the release of the DOL investigation findings. Mr. Rueger’s response was that the problem has been solved and that Mr. Aiken has reached a settlement with PG&E. This attitude is indicative of an understating of the seriousness of the problem that exists within the Diablo management team.
As I stated at the meeting, this is exactly same attitude that existed at Millstone when they reached a settlement with me in February 1993. It is just this type of management style that led to the near destruction of Northeast Utilities and a major impact on the entire nuclear industry.
When I spoke at the Regulatory Information Conference in March of this year, I presented substantial reasons as to why the industry can not withstand another “Millstone.”
Diablo will never fix its problems unless they are willing to first admit they have a problem. They haven’t even reached the first step and continue with total denial. Like Millstone and Byron, the lines of communication between management and some of the employees have been severed and need repair.
I listened very carefully to the statements made by Mr. Gary Peterson at the meeting and have a great respect for his willingness to speak out in front of a very hostile audience. Mr. Peterson statements were similar to those I have personally witnessed from other operations personnel at Diablo, and I am also aware your staff has heard similar comments from employees. I have a true concern for Mr. Peterson’s future in the nuclear industry. There is already speculation PG&E has attempted to find a justifiable method to banish him from the industry. If the past is any indication, PG&E will soon move to "solve" Mr. Peterson's problems by removing him from the Diablo Canyon site.
I believe I heard at the meeting that only one concern has been received by the ECP this year. In contrast, Millstone’s ECP, considered to be one of the best in the industry, receives more than ten concerns per month. Either the Diablo management team program is not listening or the employees are afraid to use the ECP program. I heard more than three allegations during this public meeting including the most significant of all—the existence of a “hostile work environment” in the operations department and possibly other departments. This is a significant allegation and one that can not be ignored by the NRC. Unless the NRC is willing to force Diablo management address the issues of the work environment, it will continue to degrade, along with the perception that the NRC endorses a “chilled” workplace.
I would like to share with you some of the other comments I have received from employees about the environment and NRC actions at Diablo.
According to the DOL investigation and testimony provided to the NRC, the President of PG&E admitted1 he took action against Mr. Aiken for his protected activity involvement, yet the NRC investigates and convinces PG&E that no wrong was done, even after an admission of guilt to the NRC and the DOL. Some believe that there is very strong evidence of criminal activity by PG&E and possibly the NRC and that there is no where to go with these allegations.
Diablo management stated they are working to improve the “trust in management.” How can they do this after a “public execution” of a respected employee and a true friend to many co-workers.
The ECP has lost the trust of the employees after realizing it is nothing more than a conduit to management and to the legal department. This is very apparent from the abnormally low number of concerns brought forward by Diablo employees. The DOL report makes it very clear that the ECP played a key role in the harassment of Mr. Aiken.
The NRC (Region IV) has conducted personal interviews of operations and other personnel and are fully aware of the chilled environment within certain vital groups, yet takes no action to rectify the degrading environment.
Diablo employees have stated that the “mini-survey” was administered by PG&E. This survey was conducted prior to the release of the DOL investigation report and the environment has significantly degraded since that time. PG&E developed its own analysis and conclusions resulting in further erosion of employee confidence. Synergy simply provided comments on the PG&E analysis.
The management at Diablo has created a hostile work environment similar or worse than that created at Millstone and it appears the NRC is taking little or no action to resolve this matter.
There is a solution to this situation, but it will never come until management is willing to admit there is a problem. From my interactions with Diablo Canyon workers prior to the meeting and my observations during the meeting, there is a dedicated, professional work force at Diablo just as there was at Millstone in the mid 1990s. The NRC tolerated a bad safety culture at Millstone until TIME magazine exposed the problems for all to see. The NRC needs to step in now at Diablo and ensure its safety culture is restored to the level that its workers and the general public expect and deserve.
If the NRC fails to act, you can be assured that employees and their advocates will find an avenue to pursue their concerns. There is an opportunity to prevent this situation from getting chaotic, if the NRC acts now to intervene.
1 DOL Final investigative report, page 14: “He (Gordon Smith) stated that in mid 1998, between March 23, 1998 when Aiken made his request to go to the Shareholders’ Meeting and April 15, 1998, the date of the Meeting, he agreed or authorized PG&E to contract Dr. Dietz to make a preliminary evaluation of Aiken’s mental health.”