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Published: 1/27/2006

Ex-engineer, consultant face charges in U.S. court

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Siemaszko Siemaszko
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A former Davis-Besse systems engineer and an outside consultant who had been affiliated with the Ottawa County nuclear power plant for several years are to appear in U.S. District Court in Toledo today for their arraignments on criminal charges of making false statements to a federal agency.

Andrew Siemaszko, 51, of Spring, Texas, and Rodney M. Cook, 55, of Millington, Tenn., are to appear at 2:30 p.m. before Magistrate Vernelis Armstrong, who will read the charges that have been filed against them following a two-year investigation by a federal grand jury in Cleveland.

Mr. Siemaszko, a former systems engineer, and David C. Geisen, 45, of DePere, Wis., were each indicted on five counts.

Mr. Cook, a contractor-consultant, was indicted on four counts.

Mr. Geisen, who was an engineering manager with Davis-Besse that isowned and operated by Akron-based First Energy Corp., before taking a job as an engineer at the Kewaunee nuclear plant near Green Bay, Wis., is to be arraigned by the magistrate at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

All three face up to five years in prison and $250,000 fines if convicted.

The U.S. Department of Justice accused them of withhold-ing information in the fall of 2001 about massive rust on the outside of Davis-Besse's old reactor head that was thinning out the device and causing hairline cracks.

Although the NRC admits being provided in 2000 with a photograph that depicted heavy streaks of rust forming on top of the reactor cap, the agency has said it did not know what to make of the picture.

The agency said that technical information written in the fall of 2001 by Mr. Siemaszko, Mr. Geisen, Mr. Cook, and a fourth person, Prasoon Goyal, was framed in a way to deceive regulators about the extent of damage and the danger risk.

Mr. Goyal of Toledo is a former senior design engineer at the plant. He has agreed to testify to avoid prosecution, however, as part of the agreement, he is to be barred from further employment in the nuclear industry for a year.

The NRC, in a separate civil action, has called for Mr. Siemaszko and Mr. Geisen to be blacklisted from the industry for five years.

An appeal of Mr. Siemaszko's employment sanction is being heard by the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. Two watchdog groups, the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Mass., as well as Ohio Citizen Action, have been granted intervener status by that board to assist with Mr. Siemaszko's defense in the civil matter.

David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear safety engineer, yesterday submitted an eight-page rebuttal to the NRC in which his group laid out a paper trail, based on publicly available documents, to support its contention that Mr. Siemaszko was rebuffed by FirstEnergy in 2000 when he tried to postpone Davis-Besse's restart to do more maintenance on the old reactor head.

The group claims the NRC's employment sanction against Mr. Siemaszko is "baseless, unfair, and deplorable."

"Everybody - Andrew, FirstEnergy, and the NRC - knew there was boric acid on the head. They thought it was flange leakage," Mr. Lochbaum said, referring to a type of leakage common at many nuclear plants that usually doesn't result in near-castrastrophic damage.

"Now, they're blaming Andrew. It just seems that everybody was caught surprised by the hole in the head in 2002 and everybody's assumptions up to that point were proven invalid. It seems everybody's guilty or nobody is," he said.

"There was a pattern in which FirstEnergy set up people like Andrew because it failed to give them the tools to do their jobs," Mr. Lochbaum said.

FirstEnergy has said Mr. Siemaszko needs to be held accountable because he signed off on some paperwork in 2000 that said the plant was ready for restart.

But Mr. Siemaszko has said he was forced to do so under the threat of losing his job.

Scott Burnell, a NRC spokesman, was asked yesterday if the agency's headquarters had any response to the public documents cited by Mr. Lochbaum's rebuttal.

"None whatsoever. It's before the [Atomic Safety and Licensing Board]. It's a pending matter," he said.

Cleveland-based U.S. Attorney Greg White and David Uhlmann, chief of the U.S. Department of Justice's environmental crimes section, said any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by FirstEnergy senior officials would not have been strong enough to convince a jury of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The NRC's decision to unknowingly let Davis-Besse continue operating until Feb. 16, 2002, six weeks later than the agency staff's recommended date of Dec. 31, 2001, was made after several days of face-to-face negotiations at the NRC's headquarters in Rockville, Md.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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