Mar
06
    
WHISTLEBLOWERS By Sharon Tracy

WHISTLEBLOWERS

By Sharon Tracy

In the early spring of 1977 I went to one of the events about nuclear power held around New England to educate the public and recruit for the occupation. I sat on a metal chair in a church basement with 20 or so strangers crowded round Judy Rubenstein as she told the terrifying story of Karen Silkwood. Judy outlined the evidence of how Silkwood had died in 1975 or so under suspicious circumstances while blowing the whistle on the Oklahoma nuclear fuel fabrication facility where she worked. She had documents with her proving the facility’s criminally lax adherence to safety regulations preventing radioactive contamination. By the time of her fatal drive to meet a New York Times reporter, Silkwood herself was contaminated by high level radiation that mysteriously appeared in the bologna in her refrigerator. (Meryl Streep portrayed Karen’s story masterfully in Silkwood some years later.) I was riveted and outraged.

Putting put my affairs in order, I joined the great occupation in April and ended up living on the Seacoast off and on for many years. During the occupation, I was support, part of the robust legal team of lawyers and non-lawyers from New England and beyond (most were card carrying members of the National Lawyers Guild and the ACLU).

            Once construction was well underway, in the mid-80s, locals started hearing some hair-raising stories about bad welds (there are miles and miles of welded pipe), negligent quality assurance, concrete set poorly, improper construction. We started a whistleblowers organization for Seabrook nuclear plant construction workers: Employees Legal Project. Remembering Silkwood, we set up a whistleblower identity protection method. Lawyers who had helped the occupiers navigate the courts after their civil disobedience arrests stepped up again to help. They became legal counsel to the many whistleblowers who then passed their information to the ELP via the attorneys. We had a double blind system to protect the informants; we did not know their identities and the lawyers were protected by lawyer-client privilege.

Congressman Mavroules said he would take a whistleblower report and use it to apply pressure at the federal level to prevent Seabrook nuke from going on line. We had a year. The ELP office, a winter rental beach house, buzzed constantly with the work of ten people at its peak. We raised money and hired a nuclear engineer, Scott Schumm, a former inspector for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He carefully analyzed each allegation. The regional NRC inspectors, the rather thuggish group who dealt with us, were quite displeased we were “doing their job,” and insisted we report to them on the problems we found. We did, but the interactions were less than congenial mostly because the NRC rejected all concerns.

The final report to the Congressman was hundreds of pages of technical, detailed evidence that the Seabrook nuke was not properly built and should not go on line. We lugged three copies to our meeting with the Congressman, an imposing, white-haired man. He told us in so many words as he tossed it aside, “Congress is bought off. It is in the pockets of the nuclear industry. Nothing can be done to stop them.” Well, didn’t that just take my cynicism about the federal government to new levels?

So they started the plant (one of the two) and there it is creaking away across the marsh with its improperly assembled structures, substandard counterfeit materials and fasteners, and the bad welds. And the microbes in the water that particularly like to settle in the imperfections in bad welds where they live and eat and excrete. Sulfuric acid. This does not bode well for the longevity of the miles and miles of the nuke’s piping.

Steve Comley, former owner of a top notch nursing home just outside the ten-mile evacuation radius, carries the nuclear plant whistleblower banner to this day.

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