Project On

LIBERTY AND THE
WORKPLACE

1319 F Street, N.W., Suite 305
Washington, DC 20004
202-955-6968 · fax: 202-318-2287 ·www.projectlaw.org

June 6, 2000

PRESS RELEASE

NRC TO INVESTIGATE ITSELF
Chairman Directs Inspector General To Investigate Regional Office

After one entire year’s investigation, the US Department of Labor found that the President and CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric, Gordon Smith, personally targeted nuclear shift foreman Neil Aiken for termination. Aiken’s “crime” — revealing nuclear and occupational safety hazards at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant to PG&E’s shareholders and federal regulators.

According to the US Department of Labor, Smith and other senior PG&E managers ordered Aiken to submit to repeated, involuntary psychiatric examinations.  Further, PG&E provided incomplete information to mental health professionals specifically intended to force Aiken out of the nuclear industry. Professionals who examined Aiken at length on a clean slate unanimously concluded that Aiken was stable and fit for duty.

Similar to the Erin Brockovich scandal, Aiken filed suit against PG&E and his case was quickly settled to his satisfaction. But it left a critical question unanswered — what did the NRC do through all of this. The answer; worse than nothing. The NRC’s inactions clearly encourage other utilities to take similar actions against the few other employees considering identifying safety issues.

For months, the NRC stonewalled requests by Aiken’s attorneys to investigate his case. When evidence against PG&E mounted, an NRC Regional Office issued a short letter timed to defeat Aiken’s lawsuit exonerating PG&E. The Labor Department issued a 20 page detailed report documenting PG&E’s campaign against Aiken in great detail. After Aiken’s case was settled, the NRC scheduled a series of public and private meetings and interrogations in an attempt to justify its inaction. All but one meeting was cancelled when the Project On Liberty And The Workplace (“Project LAW”), who represented Aiken in litigation, demanded to attend and be heard. 

Aiken was supported throughout his entire ordeal by fellow operators at Diablo Canyon; a coalition of public interest groups; Project LAW, Union of Concerned Scientists, Public Citizen, and Mothers for Peace. Led by Project LAW Executive Director Bob Seldon, these groups requested NRC Chairman Richard A. Meserve and Inspector General Hubert Bell to open an investigation into the repeated improper actions by the NRC’s Regional Office and the NRC’s Office of Investigations during and after its investigation. Chairman Meserve responded by directing the Inspector General to do so.

Project LAW’s Executive Director Bob Seldon, who served as Aiken’s lead counsel, offered the following comments on the NRC’s action:

  • The NRC’s desire is finally ready to confirm what every employee of Diablo Canyon already knows. PG&E’s top officials and its contracted doctors conspired against Neil Aiken and the NRC looked the other way.

  • We have been contacted in confidence by many employees at Diablo Canyon. What happened to Neil Aiken has left them deeply concerned about their careers if they were to pursue issues about nuclear & occupational safety hazards.

  • The actions by PG&E towards Aiken and others, now fully exposed in the DOL findings, have created an intolerable situation at Diablo Canyon. Employees cannot raise concerns without legitimate fear of reprisals by either the company or the NRC. PG&E has refused to take anything more than “cosmetic” actions to measure the extent of the "chilling effect." The NRC has conducted personal interviews and is well aware of the severely “chilled” environment, yet refuses to even acknowledge that one even exists.

One Diablo employee summarizes the culture at Diablo. PG&E’s policy makes it very clear—either fall in line or suffer the Neil Aiken consequences: 

The “WE Culture Guiding Principles” states: “We raise, encourage and respect conflicting views, and once decisions are made, mutually own the decisions with word and action.” This pretty well describes the atmosphere throughout Diablo. We are required by NRC regulations to listen to employee concerns but management has the final say—or else.

Project Law, other public interest groups and many Diablo employees are encouraged by the commencement of this investigation and anticipate the NRC’s Inspector General’s office will finally expose the continued employee abuse suffered at the hands of this utility and the NRC.