Entergy suspends 4 more employees
By Susan Smallheer
STAFF WRITER | February 25,2010
MONTPELIER - Entergy Nuclear announced Wednesday that it had suspended four additional senior Vermont Yankee employees - including the man who had been leading the investigation into the tritium leak - after it concluded its investigation into whether its employees lied to state regulators about the existence of buried pipes carrying radioactivity.
The company said that it concluded there was no intent to mislead the public and regulators, but that "some communication was incomplete or inaccurate." A total of 11 employees were disciplined, either reprimanded or placed on administrative leave.
Entergy didn't name the employees who were placed on administrative leave or disciplined, with the exception of Michael Colomb, the site vice president, who was disciplined along with five others.
But the company listed the director of nuclear safety assurance, the manager of licensing, a "technical specialist" and a senior project manager as those placed on administrative leave.
John Dreyfuss is director of nuclear safety assurance, and just Tuesday night he sent out a letter saying the company has responded to a tritium leak in 2005. Dreyfuss, a nuclear engineer, is also the head of the team that is investigating the current leak.
Larry Smith, spokesman for Entergy Nuclear, said that no successor had been named to replace Dreyfuss on the tritium task force, but he stressed that finding the leak was a "team effort." He declined to say when Dreyfuss and the others were placed on leave and he said he couldn't say what administrative leave entailed.
Also placed on leave was Dave McElwee, Entergy's senior liaison engineer who was the main technical point man on regulatory issues for the company in Montpelier.
Both Dreyfuss and McElwee were featured prominently in Entergy Nuclear's short-lived and ill-fated media campaign, IAMVY.com. The company took down the Web site and suspended the advertising campaign about two weeks ago.
At the time, an Entergy spokesman said they were being updated and would be restored soon.
Dave Manai, the manager of licensing, and Mike Netell, a senior project manager for relicensing, were also placed on administrative leave. Jay Thayer, the vice president of operations, was earlier placed on administrative leave.
Thayer and Colomb both testified before the Public Service Board that the Vernon reactor didn't have any buried pipes containing radioactivity, which were to be the focus of part of the Legislature's independent audit of several plant systems in 2008-2009.
McElwee was the author of several key e-mails to the Legislature's Oversight Panel, and who emphatically stated there were no underground pipes carrying radioactivity.
The public announcement of the conclusion of its investigation and disciplinary action prompted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission late Wednesday afternoon to issue a statement from Chairman Gregory Jaczko, saying that Entergy would face "a demand for information" under oath as the NRC conducts its own investigation.
"I will see to it that the NRC takes every measure necessary to independently assure that the health and safety of the public and the environment is protected at Vermont Yankee," Jaczko said in a prepared statement.
Entergy's spokesman Smith refused to release a copy of Entergy's internal investigation, which was conducted an outside law firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, an international law firm, despite earlier promises by company officials that it would release the report in the "interests of transparency."
Smith said that Entergy turned over its investigation to Attorney General William Sorrell, who was traveling Wednesday and couldn't be reached for comment, according to his office.
Carl Hebert, Entergy vice president, made the announcement during a Statehouse press conference, about an hour before the Senate started debating Vermont Yankee's fate. He didn't answer any questions.
The company said that the miscommunication occurred while discussing the scope of the work of Nuclear Safety Associates, a firm hired by the state to assist in the legislatively mandated audit.
"The Entergy responses were limited to only pipes that touch soil, (not those encased in concrete) that carry liquid (not gaseous matter) and that are part of whole systems as defined by law," Entergy's statement said.
"Entergy employees' failure to specify the context of their communication led to misunderstandings and, taken out of that context, the response were incomplete and misleading," the report stated.
The company said that all the disciplinary action had "financial consequences" for the employees.