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“Indian Point sets employee complaint record” by Wayne A. Hall

Buchanan – While Indian Point is under pressure to close from politicians and organizations, critics inside the plant are making noise, too.

Despite reassurance from Indian Point officials that things are running smoothly at the nuclear plant, in January alone 14 confidential employee complaints were filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

That’s a monthly record number for the Buchanan plant, whose 10-mile evacuation zone covers parts of southern Orange County, along with parts of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.

Those complaints were filed anonymously, the agency said yesterday.

None of the employees who complained in January have gone public like Foster Zeh, who’s now on forced administrative paid leave. Zeh first went public with charges of lax security and faulty training in a Dec. 10 story in the Times Herald-Record.

But Zeh’s actions might have paved the way for others to come forward, Kyle Rabin, an analyst with Riverkeeper, said yesterday. Riverkeeper is the most vocal group trying to shut the plant down.

Even with Zeh coming forward, though, others might not be willing to put their jobs on the line or themselves in the public eye.

That’s probably because it’s really tough to be a whistle-blower.

“Whistle-blowers are at tremendous risk,” said Peter Stockton, a senior investigator for the Washington, D.C. Project on Government Oversight. “A company can start going after them.”

“I wouldn’t go public, not with the way they react to you,” said a former Indian Point worker.

In fact, there are state and federal whistle-blower laws to protect the jobs of those who come forward. For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor could order an employer to give a whistle-blower his job back, along with back pay.

Employees, though, have to qualify for the protection. One standard for being a whistle-blower is someone who proves retaliation.

New York state has a law, too, but it’s under attack for being weak. Even Gov. George Pataki has said so. That hasn’t stopped the Indian Point employees.

Their 14 complaints in January are the largest single month tally of complaints among the 65 nuclear plants across the country that produced complaints. There are 103 plants total.

Last year, a total of nine allegations were substantiated from the two Indian Point reactors out of 34 filed. The identity of those who filed the complaints is kept confidential by the NRC to encourage whistle-blowers to come forward.

James Steets, spokesman for Indian Point owner Entergy, said “we encourage people to raise issues and talk about them” through Entergy’s Employees Concerns Program.

One of those 14 Indian Point employees filing a recent complaint was Zeh. He couldn’t be reached yesterday, but his lawyer, Thomas Rosenthal, said the clock’s ticking on filing a possible federal case that would make Zeh an official whistle-blower.

Zeh, though, already has gained the protection of public opinion, said Stockton.

“But if people weren’t paying attention to him,” Stockton said, “he’d be dog meat.”

This article originally appeared in the Times Herald-Record

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