WASHINGTON-Andrew Siemaszko, a former reactor coolant system engineer at FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC), was convicted today by a federal jury in Toledo, Ohio, for concealing information from and making false statements to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Justice Department announced.
The evidence at trial showed that, during the fall of 2001, Siemaszko falsely represented to the NRC that past inspections of the reactor vessel head at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station were adequate to assure safe operation until February or March 2002. His statements were in response to a bulletin issued by the NRC in August 2001 that warned of a cracking problem at similar plants and sought information about Davis-Besse.
"Today, after hearing all the facts, a federal jury convicted Andrew Siemaszko for concealing the truth from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The effectiveness of the NRC's regulation and the safe operation of the nation's nuclear power plants depends on honest and forthright information. When those who have information about unacceptable plant conditions choose to conceal or falsify, there will be consequences."
Siemaszko was the reactor coolant system engineer at the Davis-Besse plant, which is owned and operated by the FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company. The plant, located on the southwestern shore of Lake Erie, near Oak Harbor, Ohio, was vulnerable to cracking where control rod guide nozzles were welded to the lid of the reactor vessel. The reactor vessel is the container where the nuclear reaction occurs. This nozzle cracking, which had first been observed at similar U.S. plants in late 2000, could lead to breaks where the nozzles penetrated the lid of the steel-walled vessel. Such a break could release pressurized reactor coolant water into the containment building and result in a potentially serious accident that would stress the plant's safety systems.
In August 2001, the NRC issued Bulletin 2001-01, requiring FENOC and other utilities to report on their plant's susceptibility to cracking, the steps they had taken to detect it and their plans for addressing the problem in the future. Because FENOC chose not to inspect the nozzles prior to Dec. 31, 2001, it was also required to justify operation beyond that date.
In the months following the issuance of Bulletin 2001-01, FENOC submitted five letters to the NRC. The information about past inspections that was included in those responses was based on work done by Siemaszko. Specifically, he contributed information about his own inspection of the head and information based on video records of inspections conducted by others. The past inspections revealed that there were deposits of boric acid on the reactor head that got worse over time. Boric acid is dissolved in a plant's reactor coolant water. For the inspection performed by Siemaszko in 2000, those deposits physically blocked several of the openings through which the inspection was to be done. In Bulletin 2001-01, the NRC had written that small boric acid deposits were a sign of nozzle cracking.
FENOC's bulletin responses assured the NRC that past inspections were adequate to support safe operation until February or March 2002. Davis-Besse had already scheduled a refueling outage for the spring of 2002. In order to persuade the NRC that the plant was safe to operate until the prescheduled shutdown, the responses included false information. Ultimately, the NRC agreed that Davis-Besse could continue to operate until mid-February 2002. During that refueling outage, workers discovered a pineapple-sized cavity in the head of the reactor vessel. Subsequent analysis showed that this hole was the result of corrosive reactor coolant leaking through a nozzle crack.
At trial, the government proved that Siemaszko knew that this information was false and that he presented information orally to the NRC that emphasized false conclusions, including the statement that he was "at peace in his soul" regarding the 2000 inspection results.
More specifically, Siemaszko was convicted of concealing the condition of Davis-Besse's reactor vessel head and of concealing how poor past inspections of that head had been. Video evidence presented at trial showed that the camera used to inspect was physically blocked by boric acid deposits and that very few of the nozzles that were the subject of the NRC's bulletin could be assessed for cracking. He also approved false statements about the procedures to conduct the past inspections.
Siemaszko was also convicted of using false writings in FENOC's interactions with the NRC. Those writings included false statements about the extent of inspections done in 1996, 1998 and 2000. Specifically, Siemaszko produced a table of nozzle inspection results that included false information about the 1996 inspection and false information about supposed visual inspections that were not included on video records. He also was convicted for causing a false probabilistic analysis to be sent the NRC, which was based on information from his false table.
Further, evidence at trial showed that after the cavity in the Davis-Besse reactor vessel head was discovered, FENOC disciplined a number of its employees. Siemaszko was fired and brought a "whistleblower" complaint against FENOC. According to a Department of Labor investigator who testified at the trial, the complaint was fully investigated and dismissed. The investigator testified that Siemaszko admitted during the whistleblower investigation that he lied to the NRC and was terminated for that reason.
Siemaszko's co-defendant David Geisen was convicted last year, on Oct. 31, 2007, on similar charges. Another co-defendant, Rodney Cook, was acquitted. Sentencing in for Siemaszko has not yet been scheduled.
The investigation and prosecution were conducted jointly by the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section and by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Ohio, as well as the NRC Office of Investigations. Special agents of the NRC's Office of Investigations and a senior reactor inspector from NRC's Region III developed the case and referred it to the Department of Justice.