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Whistle blowers spark latest Palisades investigation

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. - Whistle blowers sparked the latest special investigation at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven.

Wednesday ABC 57 News learned of an investigation being done at the plant by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Thursday a letter was sent to Palisades by the NRC demanding an investigation into the safety culture at the plant.

CONGRESSIONAL ACCUSATIONS

The plant shut down June 12th over a water tank leak that the plant classified as minor. ABC 57 News has learned some employees of Palisades believe the leak to be unsafe.

 “I always thought it was bad,” said Rhonda Grigereit a resident of Covert Township. Her house is roughly six miles from the nuclear reactor at the Palisades plant. The proximity has always worried her. “There could be a leak somewhere and it could harm a lot of people”

Little did Grigereit know, her concerns are shared with those inside Palisades.

“The employees that raised concerns to me have concerns about whether it’s safe,” said Billie Garde, a lawyer out of Washington D.C. that represents whistle blowers in the nuclear industry.

Garde authored a letter to Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey detailing the leak that shut down the plant on June 12th and employee concerns over safety. “It’s a man-made industry,” she said. “Sometimes man-made industries fail.”

Tuesday Markey sent a letter to the NRC requesting a special investigation into Palisades.

NRC Spokesperson Viktoria Mytlyng told ABC 57 News that an investigation began at Palisades this week after Markey’s request but the investigation announced Thursday has been in the works for weeks.

According to Garde’s letter, radioactive borated water had been leaking from the tank that cools the reactor into the power plants control room. The plant shut down on June 12th when a self imposed 31-gallon-per-day leakage mark was reached by Palisades.

“It has a slight, small amount of tritium in it, so it’s radioactive? Of course,” said Palisades Spokesperson Mark Savage. Savage said leaking water was collected in basins above the control room and tested by employees.

Palisades and whistle blowing employees disagree on whether the action of catching the water was safe.

SAFETY CULTURE

Garde’s letter detailed evidence of safety culture deficiencies at Palisades.

 According to an anonymous survey completed by the NRC “Data from the survey reveals that 74% of the almost 600 respondents do not believe they can openly challenge decisions made by management.” The letter read.

The letter went on to say “32% of the respondents believe that management tolerates harassment and retaliation for raising concerns.”

Mytlyng told ABC 57 News the survey was part of a previous safety culture investigation at Palisades.

“We’ve got to work on repairing the plant, repairing the tank and getting that plant to operable condition,” Savage said of the focus among management at Palisades.

Both Savage and Mytlyng told ABC 57 News that operation of the plant is currently safe to the public.

“Anything could happen,” said Grigereit. “They should shut it down.”

Mytling would not speculate on NRC procedure if Palisades were to fail either of the two current investigations. Palisades has 20 days to respond to the NRC’s request for a safety evaluation.

Palisades was downgraded in 2011 to one of the four worst performing Nuclear Power Plants in the United States.

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