Former engineer calls for an investigation of the Callaway nuclear plant

Jan 12, 2012

A former engineer at the Callaway Nuclear Plant is requesting that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, look into possible violations of the operating license at the Callaway plant, owned and operated by Ameren Missouri.

By Janet Saidi

Larry Criscione is an engineer who previously worked as a senior reactor operator at Ameren Missouri’s Callaway Nuclear Plant. He’s filing a petition with an NRC petition review board, asking them to look into possible violations in plant shutdown procedures, which Criscione says are not in compliance with the plant’s operating license and NRC regulations.  

Criscione’s complaints about Ameren Missouri date back to the year 2007, when he investigated a particular 2003 shutdown incident at the plant. He feels at least one and possibly other shutdown events have been mishandled slightly, and then covered up.

In his petition to the NRC petition review board, Criscione says he doesn’t believe public safety is at any immediate risk because of the alleged violations – but he feels it’s the safety culture that is at risk. During a presentation Monday at the NRC’s headquarters in Rockville MD, Criscione said it’s important for engineers to be able to raise concerns to Ameren management without risk of retaliation – and he says this isn’t the case.

"There are individuals in important positions within Ameren that consistently prevent their technical staffs from raising embarrassing or inconvenient concerns," Criscione said. "From your cubicles in Rockville, MD, you will never become aware of these problems, unless a foolhardy utility worker brings it to your attention."

Criscione’s concerns have to do with the plant’s shutdown procedures and what are called “tech specs”, which he compares to speed limits. He says, similar to speeding down a highway, the “tech specs” can be violated without endangering the public, but they still constitute a violation. Criscione says one Ameren senior reactor operator – identified as “Mr. S.” in his petition – was intimated by superiors to the point of withdrawing an operations report. In May 2010, as part of an investigative report, KBIA also spoke with Ameren engineer who felt he’d been retaliated against for expressing concerns about safety procedures to his superiors.

In his petition to the NRC, Criscione tied the importance of open communication about safety issues to the 2005 Taum Sauk reservoir collapse, which sent more than a billion gallons of water through the Johnson Shut-Ins state park.

"Had Ameren not blatently ignored the concerns of its technical staff regarding the level sensors at Taum Sauk, that disaster would never have occurred. The events of this petition may seem like a trivial matter to you, but certainly compare to Taum Sauk they are. But they are indicative of an organization whose managers continue to place personal gains ahead of public safety. And who are willing to retaliate against engineers and technicians who dare to stand in their way."

The NRC board that heard Criscione’s petition Monday will now receive a publicly available transcript of the presentation before meeting again to decide whether to take any action.

Ameren Missouri officials declined to comment on Criscione’s petition – saying that until the petition has not been acted on, the company doesn’t have any actual facts to comment on.