A former Southern Nuclear Company executive and the company are facing federal actions relating to incidents against terminated contract employees who had previously raised safety concerns at the Vogtle Units 3 and 4 construction site, near Waynesboro, GA.
The manager, Mark Rauckhorst, executive vice president for the Vogtle project who retired from Georgia Power sister company Southern Nuclear Operating Company in 2018, is facing a notice of violation and the company is facing a confirmatory order in the case brought by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Rauckhorst and the company say no NRC regulations were violated.
The NRC found Rauckhorst violated the agency’s employee protection regulations by removing a contract employee from the Vogtle site in December 2015, while knowing the employee had previously raised concerns about design and code compliance issues. The employee’s contract was terminated in 2016.
The NRC identified apparent employee protection violations by Southern Nuclear in that case and one where a different contract employee was removed from the Vogtle site in 2017. The NRC also investigated Westinghouse, Southern Nuclear’s vendor for the Vogtle project, with regard to the case. The NRC concluded no enforcement action was warranted for Westinghouse.
The NRC’s May 2019 letter to the former manager regarding the case followed normal practice in offering a mediated settlement through the agency’s Alternative Dispute Resolution process.
When the NRC and the former manager could not reach an agreement, the agency held a pre-decisional enforcement conference with the manager in September before concluding the violation occurred. The manager has 30 days to respond to the notice of violation.
Southern Nuclear was also offered a mediated settlement, and the confirmatory order enforces the results.
Southern Nuclear committed to several actions, including maintaining a review process to ensure protected activity is considered when an employee faces significant adverse actions (e.g., job termination). The company also committed to improve the nuclear safety culture and safety conscious work environment at the site.
In October, the NRC announced a settlement with another Southern Nuclear executive, Thomas B. Saunders, who was contracts and procurement director for construction at the project.
The NRC said Saunders acknowledged a violation of employee protection regulations when he had a different contracted worker dismissed in 2017. The mechanical planner, who was later fired, had previously raised safety concerns about welds and other issues.