Monday, April 10, 2017

Was Therapy Used to Punish Nuclear Workers?

I am going through my library. It is totally exhausting because I must have 50 boxes of books, academic journal articles, and binders of newspaper articles organized by category.

My family thinks I'm a pack-rat but these are the tools of my trade.

In particular, my print collection of news articles endures while those archived electronically online have a habit of disappearing.

One article I discovered today is titled "Was Therapy Used to Punish Nuclear Workers?" published in The Wall Street Journal March 20, 1996, p. B1.

The article covers the case of Glenda Kay Miller who questioned the reliability of proposed employee-identification system at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama. The plant operator sent her to the company psychologist, who grilled her before she was dismissed summarily.  The plant was owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The article cites a Washington attorney who had represented other workers sent to company psychologists for raising safety issues. The pattern of using therapy to punish workers before terminating them was cleverly crafted because it helped to cast doubt upon their credibility.

This policy was probably carefully crafted, at least in the cases illustrated in the news article.

The NRC was quoted as aware of the "allegations": 
"NRC officials say that they are aware of allegations that utilities are abusing the rules to harass whistle-blowers but that its difficult to prove that psychological exams aren't necessary. Officials also say that their top priority is investigating the safety concerns raised by workers and that accusations of improper referrals to psychologists take less precedence."
Harassment of whistle-blowers is a sign that something is very wrong with the corporate culture and conduct, as I've explored in my published research (e.g., Crisis Communication, Liberal Democracy and Ecological Sustainability).

The nuclear industry has a poor record of governance, especially when it comes to whistle-blowers.

I found another example of precisely this type of pathology while going through my nuclear stories focusing on Hanford:  Karen Franklin (1991, October). It's Only Plutonium (So shut up and get back to work). The Progressive, 15- 20.

When (unsuccessfully) searching for the article online, I found a 2017 interview with Arnie Gundersen describing corruption and punishment of whistle-blowers at Hanford:
Josh Cunnings. (2017). How the Department of Energy Incentivized Executives at Hanford to Sweep a Plutonium Leak Under the Rug. TruthOut,
The Progressive article was published in 1991. Over 25 years later, we see that nothing has changed and that the problems keep escalating because of failure to mitigate known catastrophic risks.

How can we hope for survival when those tasked with governing our most catastrophic hazards are unwilling to acknowledge them?

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