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Engineer quits, security guard fired after warning Con Ed on safety

By JIM FITZGERALD

Associated Press Writer

BUCHANAN, N.Y. (AP) -- An engineer at a nuclear power plant warned Consolidated Edison that the reactor's protection system was faulty, then resigned in protest when the utility came to a different conclusion, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Another worker, a security guard, was fired -- illegally, the Labor Department found -- after he said plant safety would be compromised if he were forced to work a sixth straight day of 12-hour shifts.

Con Ed, which owns the Indian Point 2 plant 35 miles north of New York City, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday they found no evidence the plant was unsafe.

But the workers' departures raised new questions about the beleaguered 25-year-old plant after last year's radioactive leak, the reactor's troublesome return to full power and a monthlong inspection by the NRC, which is to make its findings public Friday.

Con Ed's "status report" on the plant for Feb. 6 said the engineer, whose name was not released, resigned a day earlier after writing a series of reports detailing what he saw as problems with the reactor protection system. The system monitors various sensors that measure temperature, flow rate and other activities.

The engineer found discrepancies between the plant's design drawings and the actual wiring. He also found that those discrepancies were often dealt with by simply changing the design drawing to match what was found in reality -- what he called "design changes by default."

Paul Blanch, a former industry whistleblower recently hired by Con Ed, acknowledged that the engineer was "very credible" and was asked to stay on, but was troubled by "differing professional opinions."

Con Ed spokesman Chris Olert said the company had reviewed the engineer's concerns "and will continue to look into them," but believes the plant is operating safely.

Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman, said the commission "didn't see anything there that would call into question the safe operation of the plant."

The security guard, Vincent Giambalvo, was fired in June by Wackenhut Corp., a Con Ed contractor.

According to a letter from the Office of Safety and Health Administration ordering his reinstatement with back pay, Giambalvo "reasonably believed that to work in his fatigued state would have violated the NRC fitness-for-duty regulation and would have posed a threat to Indian Point 2, its employees and the community at large." It said he had worked five straight days of 12-hour shifts.

Wackenhut spokesman Kevin Cannan said the company would not comment because it is appealing the reinstatement ruling by OSHA.

The NRC on Tuesday ordered Con Ed to report any measures it is taking to assure that the firing of the security guard "is not having a chilling effect on the willingness of other employees to raise safety and compliance concerns."

On the Net:

Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Indian Point site, http://www.nrc.gov/NRC/REACTOR/IP

AP-CS-03-01-01 1024EST

Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All right reserved This material may not be reproduced for publication, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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