Feds: Indian Point owner Holtec had laid-off workers agree not to testify against company


Feds: Indian Point owner Holtec had laid-off workers agree not to testify against company

Thomas C. Zambito  New York State Team
published 3 a.m. ET May 29, 2024

Indian Point’s owners had workers sign agreements saying they would not say discuss safety concerns with outsiders after they stopped working at the shuttered nuclear power plant, an investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has found.

The NRC last week cited Holtec International, the plant’s New Jersey-based owners, for including language in the severance agreements of employees who left the company in 2022 and 2023 that would restrict or discourage them from testifying as a witness in a proceeding that could damage Holtec.

Additionally, the NRC said, Holtec required the employees to tell Holtec if they received “subpoenas, correspondence, telephone calls, requests for information, inquiries or other contacts” from government agencies or other third parties.

“This language restricts the employee from voluntarily testifying on behalf of the NRC in a matter adverse to Holtec (for example, in a matter involving a potential violation) and restricts the ability of the employee to engage in back-and-forth communications with the NRC without informing Holtec,” the NRC writes.

At least seven union employees affiliated with the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) signed the agreements between July 2022 and December 2023.

NRC relies on plant workers to speak freely

The NRC conducts regular reviews of activities at the plant, which shut down in 2021 after nearly six decades producing power for Westchester County and New York City.

“It is essential that current and former plant workers feel free to raise safety concerns with the NRC,” spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “They are (or were) at the plant on a daily basis and can have knowledge of issues that are not available to us.”

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Sheehan would not say how the NRC learned of the agreements. A spokesperson for the UWUA said no one was available to comment.

The NRC investigation did not turn up evidence the agreements prevented employees from acting as so-called whistleblowers or accusing the company of jeopardizing the safety of workers or the public.

But the commission said there was a possibility the use of such agreements could be more widespread, noting that “the language appears to be in ingrained in corporate documents” used at other Holtec facilities regulated by the NRC.

A loaded HI-STORM canister being readied for its journey to the ISFSI Pad (Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation) at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan.

Holtec owns shuttered nuclear power plants in Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey.

Holtec spokesman Patrick O’Brien said the company has corrected language in future separation agreements, which “ensures that all employees understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to reporting issues adverse to safety.”

“We take this, and all violations seriously,” O’Brien said. “Our number one focus is on safety, especially nuclear safety, and encourage all of our employees and contractors to report issues through the proper channels, up to and including the NRC, as soon as they are identified.”

Funds:Indian Point owner Holtec used $63K in ratepayer funds for sports teams, fashion show

Holtec reverses course...again

This is the second time in recent months Holtec has reversed course after the NRC caught the company violating federal regulations.

In February, the NRC cited Holtec for spending $63,000 of ratepayer funds meant for the demolition of Indian Point to sponsor a high school fashion show, sports teams and a golf outing. Holtec had to reimburse the money, which it took out of some $2 billion in decommissioning trust funds it inherited after buying the plant from Louisiana-based Entergy.

Holtec sued the state of New York last month over a law signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul that bans the discharge of treated radiological water into the Hudson River.

Lawsuit:Indian Point owner sues NY to overturn law banning radiological water in Hudson River

The company had plans to discharge a million gallons of treated radioactive water from reactor cooling pools into the river, prompting an outcry from environmental groups and state lawmakers.

In the spring of 2023, Holtec vice president Richard Burroni said the teardown would be stalled and the company would be forced to lay off workers if the state interfered with its discharge plans.

The move prompted Thomas Carey, the president of the AFL-CIO affiliate at the plant, to accuse Holtec of stoking worker fears.