Usually when we hear from rank-and-file Indian Point employees, it is to
remind us that the nuclear power plans are “safe, secure and vital,” with
some emphasis on vital, as in, “our jobs are vital to us.” It was a bit
disheartening then to read where some workers at the Buchanan plants feel
stifled by supervisors when it comes to raising safety issues – so much so
that they have complained to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Safe,
secure and muzzled” doesn’t sound like much of a slogan or policy, now does

Allegations of the employee angst is referenced in the NRC’s 54-page
inspection report to Indian Point setting forth what regulators gleaned
during inspections and interviews with workers. An article by staff writer
Greg Clary included this from NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan: “We rely on plant
workers coming forward to raise concerns, not only with (the operator), but
with us, too. If they feel like they’re impeded from doing that because
there would be a backlash, we want to know what the company is doing to
address that.”

The NRC gave Indian Point 30 days to come up with a plan to make workers
feel more comfortable about speaking up, and the plants have already
announced steps aimed at reinforcing “the importance and necessity for
raising safety issues,” said Indian Point spokesman Jim Steets. At the same
time, the NRC said the conditions at the plants are safe for workers and
the public – perhaps evidence that the NRC employee interviews did not
reveal any extraordinary safety problems. In any case, the allegations have
to sting; employees can’t sing the company’s praises so well in public
while they are biting their tongues on safety in private.

Certainly more than their jobs are at stake.

The NRC findings come as Indian Point owner Entergy Nuclear Northeast is
ramping up for what portends to be a difficult and politics-charged
relicensing process. At the same time, a host of New York and Connecticut
lawmakers is pressing for an independent safety study of Indian Point. The
GOP-led Congress has resisted legislation authorizing the studies, spurred
in part by problems that have ranged from faulty emergency sirens to
leaking radioactive material.

“Everything changes with the new Democratic Congress,” Rep. Eliot Engel,
D-Bronx, a co-sponsor with Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-Middletown, Nita Lowey,
D-Harrison, outgoing Sue Kelly, R-Katonah, and Christopher Shays, R-Conn.,
of the Independent Safety Assessment. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.,
sponsored similar legislation in the Senate.

In the meantime, Entergy and the NRC should dismiss whoever – supervisors?
their bosses? employee peers? – is responsible for the mum’s-the-word
approach on safety. They undermine the efforts of everyone at Indian Point
who believes the plants are “safe, secure and vital,” and heighten
skepticism among the legions who aren’t so sure.

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