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Whistleblower claims Minnesota nuclear plant may be unsafe

A federal whistleblower has come forward, claiming the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may have inappropriately ignored flood risks at nuclear plants located downstream from large dams.

The man, who worked for the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration before joining the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Division of Risk Analysis over four years ago, has identified more than two dozen potentially unsafe nuclear power plants. Notably, one is the Prairie Island facility in Minnesota.

Regardless of whether employers work in the government or private sector, many fear reporting unlawful employer practices. In the case of federal workers, their fear has some factual basis: Of the 229 such cases heard by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals between October, 1994 and May, 2012, the court ruled for government whistleblowers only three times.

However, President Barack Obama recently signed legislation that affords greater protection to federal employees who report fraud, waste or abuse in government operations. The law suspends the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals' sole jurisdiction to review decisions in whistle-blower cases, and also closes several common law loopholes by which whistle-blowers could be denied protections. For example, one court ruling had established the precedent of offering protection only to whistle-blowers who were the first to report the alleged misconduct.

Another fear that inhibits many federal workers from reporting unlawful activity is retaliation by supervisors. The new law makes it easier to punish supervisors who try to retaliate against government workers for reporting misconduct. Under the new legislation, whistleblowers can challenge the consequences of government policy decisions, and they also have the right to communicate with Congress. It also does away with an attorney's fee-shifting provision, in the event an employee does not prevail in a claim of retaliation.

Yet the fear of retaliation is not unique to federal workers. In many areas of the private sector, employees hesitate to speak up against discrimination and harassment, despite the protections offered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the categories of race, color, gender, national origin, pregnancy, and religious beliefs. Other workers may be unsure of the administrative procedure for bringing a complaint, which in many instances begins by filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Source: Huffington Post, "Nuclear Power Whistleblowers Charge Federal Regulators With Favoring Secrecy Over Safety," Tom Zeller Jr., Dec. 4, 2012

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