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Published: Saturday, 2/7/2009

Engineer receives probation for role in Besse cover-up

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Siemaszko Siemaszko
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Former Davis-Besse engineer Andrew Siemaszko was sentenced Friday to three years probation and ordered to pay $4,500 in fines for his role in the Ottawa County nuclear plant's massive cover-up in the fall of 2001 that government prosecutors have called one of the most significant in the nation's nuclear history.

Siemaszko was one of only two individuals convicted. Both could have received five years in prison and been fined $250,000 for each of the three felony deception charges they were convicted of 10 months apart in 2008 and 2007. Ultimately, neither got prison time.

"The only party to significantly gain was his employer, which already has paid a very large fine," Judge David Katz of U.S. District Court in Toledo said before sentencing Siemaszko.

FirstEnergy Corp., the nuclear plant's owner-operator, has paid a record $33.5 million in fines to settle civil and criminal probes that were undertaken after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was talked out of executing an emergency shutdown order it had prepared for Davis-Besse in the fall of 2001.

The NRC correctly diagnosed something was amiss at Davis-Besse, but had no idea the plant's old reactor head was weeks away from bursting and allowing radioactive steam to form in containment of a U.S. nuclear plant for the first time since the half-core meltdown of the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor in 1979.

A crisis was barely averted when the plant was shut down on Feb. 16, 2002, six weeks later than what the NRC had originally proposed.

Siemaszko and his supervisor, David Geisen, were indicted on five felony deception charges for withholding vital information from the government agency after a two-year grand jury probe. A contractor, Rodney N. Cook, was indicted on four counts while a fourth employee, Prasoon Goyal, avoided being charged in exchange for cooperating with the government.

Geisen was fined $7,500 last spring and sentenced to three years probation, 200 hours of community service, and four months of house arrest. Mr. Cook was acquitted.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to give Siemaszko 45 days in prison - roughly the length of time Davis-Besse had been allowed to continue operating.

Siemaszko, described in the past by the Union of Concerned Scientists and other activist groups as a whistleblower whom the NRC and the nuclear industry used as a scapegoat, did not testify during his trial.

He addressed Judge Katz prior to sentencing yesterday, saying he has been struggling to put his life back together because of family issues and other losses he has endured since leaving Davis-Besse.

"The situation is grim," said Siemaszko, who had gained employment in New Orleans on an offshore oil rig, only to lose that job when he became an evacuee of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

His lawyers said in court he is more than $200,000 in debt, exclusive of his legal fees, and said he has regained employment as an engineer at a shipyard. The job requires overseas travel, which the judge granted.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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