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Feds fine FPL after St. Lucie plant boss fired worker who raised safety concerns

Florida Power & Light is facing a $232,000 fine after a former FPL executive fired a contract worker who raised a safety concern at the company’s St. Lucie Power Plant near Fort Pierce.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded this week that FPL and its contractor, Framatome, wrongly terminated the employee in March 2017 and that a former vice president of the plant created a fake journal to justify the firing.

The FPL executive at fault — a company veteran named Thomas Summers — is accused of deliberately lying to NRC officials while the regulatory agency investigated the contractor’s firing. He also is accused of discriminating against the contract worker by firing him after he reported a safety issue.

The contractor was fired the same day he reported a concern, according to NRC documents.

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The worker, who was not identified, had raised a safety concern in a “condition report” that regulators didn’t detail except to say it involved rules surrounding the “requirement for Framatome personnel to wear multiple dosimeters while performing refueling work.”

A radiation dosimeter is a device that measures radiation and records the radiation dose received when worn by a person.

Framatome had reassigned the worker to Turkey Point Nuclear Plant in Homestead when he was terminated. According to NRC interviews, the contractor’s subordinates, coworkers and bosses “almost universally” spoke well of him, and that there was little evidence as to why he was fired.

“The NRC considers deliberate violations … significant because of the potential that individuals might not raise safety issues for fear of retaliation,” the NRC wrote.

Summers left the company in March and the NRC barred him from working at any NRC company for five years.

While FPL and Framatome have the option to deny the accusations by the NRC, FPL CEO Eric Silagy told the Miami Herald Wednesday that a denial is unlikely to happen. The company will pay the fine the NRC assesses, Silagy said, and ratepayers’ bills won’t be affected as the fine is not considered a “cost of doing business.”

“We’re not contesting it; we’re not going to fight the NRC on this,” he said in an interview at the Miami Herald Wednesday. “We respectfully disagree with some of it, but that’s OK in the end.”

FPL
On Thursday, October 18, 2018 FPL President Eric Silagy gives his remarks after touring the solar center with Mayor Carlos Gimenez, right. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com

Silagy added that while he disagrees with some of the findings, like unfounded safety concerns at the plant, discriminatory behavior by employees is not tolerated by FPL.

“It’s just that simple,” he said. “We want [workers] to raise their hands if they see any issues whatsoever. It doesn’t mean that they are always right … but there’s never a fear of reprisals or being fired or anything else.”

Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.
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