Indian Point supervisor arrested for deliberately falsifying critical safety records

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Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

Entergy announced on Tuesday that a former supervisor, who worked at the Indian Point nuclear power plant north of New York City for twenty-nine years, had been arrested for deliberately falsifying critical safety records and lying to federal regulators last year.  The utility said that Daniel Wilson, age 57, who was in charge of ensuring compliance in critical safety areas, falsified tests and records related to the quality of fuel in back-up tanks for the emergency diesel generators installed at the nuclear power plant which are necessary to prevent core damage in the event of a loss of power.  Federal charges have been brought against the former employee by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who was released on bail and could be sentenced up to 7 years in prison.

Each emergency diesel generator has its own fuel tank, called the primary fuel tank, and has the ability to take additional fuel from one additional reserve fuel tank on-site.  The criminal complaint filed against Wilson, who was the chemistry manager at Indian Point between 2007 and April 2012, said that tests of the diesel fuel taken on June 17th, 2011 from the Reserve Fuel Tank showed particulate matter concentrations which exceeded NRC limits.  Again, on November 18th of the same year, a sample taken from another primary fuel tank was found to be non-compliant with the NRC limits.  On December 1st of 2011, another sample was taken from the reserve fuel tank that was again in excess of federal safety regulations.

A few weeks later, in January and February of 2012, Wilson was questioned by other Indian Point employees while conducting a self-assessment in preparation for an NRC inspection.  During the inspection preparations, workers had noted that no condition reports had been created after three tests had shown non-compliance and no additional steps had been taken to correct the problem.  After the findings, Wilson logged into the company database under another employee’s name and fabricated test data for resample tests which were never actually taken.  On February 6th, the defendant filed three falsified test results in the official plant record database which had purportedly been sampled within two weeks of the three samples which had been found in excess of federal regulations.

After being questioned by his co-workers about the lack of documentation, Wilson created a condition report, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regularly relies upon for inspecting nuclear power stations for safety, which gave additional false information and explanations for the lack of supporting documentation for the test results which he falsified.  The defendant claimed to have conducted additional tests on the fuel in-house, but further investigations found that at the time Indian Point did not have any in-house procedures in place for testing the particulate matter concentrations.  According to the documents, Wilson later admitted his guilt to NRC officials, but claimed that he had fabricated the test results in order that Indian Point would not be forced to shut down.  Wilson is charged with fabricating resample tests which were used to argue that the fuel was within federal regulations and lying to other employees about the matter.

In a press release U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “Any alleged deliberate misconduct at a facility like Indian Point is a matter of grave concern to this Office. One need look no further than recent natural disasters to know that at important facilities, backup generators and other systems must be maintained in working order because in an emergency they may be critical.”

While Entergy has claimed that the findings were discovered by employees at the nuclear power plant, they were really found during the period while workers were preparing for a pending NRC inspection, when they knew that federal regulators would want to look at the diesel fuel due to the 2011 findings.  During those preparations, Indian Point workers were unable to locate the necessary documentation for the resampling, because resampling had never actually been done by the chemistry manager.  When they confronted Wilson, he did not admit what had happened, rather falsified additional official documents which could be used to cover up the problem with the NRC.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission regularly relies on Condition Reports to document incidents of non-compliance and the steps taken by a licensee to correct the problem.

What actually happened at Indian Point was that for a matter of months, the nuclear power plant continued to operate in a condition where its diesel generators were not in technical compliance with NRC standards.  Had the NRC known about the lack of compliance, the nuclear power station would have been forced to shut down due to the emergency diesel generators being inoperable until it was able to prove compliance, which would also incur operating expenses in excess of a million dollars per day – hence why Wilson told regulators that he had done what he felt was necessary to prevent Indian Point from shutting down.  According to regulations, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could fine the licensee $140,000 per day that the nuclear power plant operated while not in compliance with safety regulations (which according to the complaint Indian Point did for months without resolution), but no such penalty has been imposed by federal regulators at this time.

Source: Entergy

Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office

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  1. I don’t believe that NYC deserves a nuclear disaster. I just think it’s dumb luck that this worker got caught. If he had support from other workers or senior managers who were also willing to lie; the NRC might not have discovered the safety violation. We should all understand what lengths dishonest nuclear workers will go to keep their job while compromising public safety. It is nuclear workers themselves who have been lulled into a false sense security about equipment operability.

  2. You’re giving the NRC much more credit than I would for what they would have done if they had “known about the lack of compliance.” The incident requires investigation. At the very least, maybe the NRC blew off a dozen leading indicators of a failed safety culture. At the very worst, maybe the NRC knew about the problem, and helped the licensee’s executives make excuses to keep operating. Maybe NRC inspections are little more than a fine dinner with old buddies after a stroll through the plant with blinders on… ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies. Saving millions in operating expenses (and saving face) might be the “hence why” in higher levels of the organization, but I would sooner believe that Wilson lied because that’s what upper management expected and rewarded. Even if an objective third party attempts to investigate this incident, it’s unlikely the public will ever learn the truth, because Wilson will probably take the fall. His future is much brighter if he spends seven years in prison, than if he exposes the cronies. It would be interesting to take a random sample and calculate the degrees of separation in the nuclear network.

  3. Right on, Brenda. When I first saw this, the first thing that came to my mind was asking just why the man wasn’t doing his job. If he didn’t have the means supplied by his employers to do that job, it’s their fault and I’m sure he would have said as much. There’s something that doesn’t add up here at all, but it strikes me that a simple solutions to the original problem (particulates in the fuel) cost wise might only be greater than the fines of the NRC, and they still have to fix the problem. But that is the attitude of business as a debt machine which is based upon simply outrunning that debt until it’s impractical and negating it then in bankruptcy. A penny saved today adds up to management bonus tomorrow. I have seen people who will do things like this to ‘help the business’on their own, but then there’s usually an accompanying reason such as incompetence or lack of perception of their role in the business coupled with lack of intelligence to come to that perception, That type of person shouldn’t have the responsibility that they have, and though one might say it’s that person’s fault, I question the management above that person for not recognizing (or, as is sometimes the case, taking advantage like an ‘idiot brother’ who’ll jump out the window if asked) either incompetence or the hazard of unrequited service.

  4. The NRC, the compromised lapdog of the nuclear power operators and industry to any reasonable observer, needs to be replaced by a new watchdog from the US Navy’s nuclear power establishment, under the control of the nuclear officers who cannot simply walk off if found out like NRC bureaucrats do. Once out of the control of the civilian nuclear operators, with the harsh punishment of the UCMJ to punish any sailor caught taking a bribe from these profiteers, inspections by Navy nuclear engineers will be, not perfect, but more meaningful than the NRC backscratching we have endured for decades.

  5. Wouldn’t it be interesting for a secret team of nuclear military people to simply show up, totally unannounced to both the nuclear operators and the NRC, at all the power plants and hold a real inspection of such things by complete surprise giving substantial rewards to military inspectors for finding as much wrong as they can, such as contaminated diesel fuel. I bet DoJ would have more than enough surprise evidence to shutter them all, saving the country from nuclear destruction…..

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