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Published: Tuesday, 7/21/2009

U.S. approves earlier return to nuclear job by ex-engineer

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Siemaszko Siemaszko
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OAK HARBOR, Ohio - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Monday made it possible for former Davis-Besse engineer Andrew Siemaszko to resume his career in the nuclear industry as early as April.

But Siemaszko - who was convicted last August of deceiving the government about the plant's dangerous operating condition in the fall of 2001 - would first have to get approval from his probation officer.

Otherwise, he will have to wait until February, 2012.

U.S. District Judge David Katz of Toledo sentenced Siemaszko to three years of probation on Feb. 6 and fined him $4,500 for the criminal charges.

Although FirstEnergy Corp. fired Siemaszko on Sept. 18, 2002, the regulatory agency barred him from finding work elsewhere in the nuclear industry on April 21,

2005. The agency accused him of having a central role in what federal prosecutors described as one of the greatest cover-ups in America's 55-year-old history of commercial nuclear power.

It occurred when Davis-Besse's reactor head nearly burst apart in the fall of 2001, a near-mishap that came within a fraction of an inch of letting radioactive steam form in containment of a U.S. reactor vessel for the first time since the half-core meltdown of Three Mile Island Unit 2 in 1979.

Authorities have said millions of people in northern Ohio were needlessly endangered by FirstEnergy's actions after an unsafe reactor was put back into operation after its 2000 outage for refueling and maintenance.

FirstEnergy paid a record $33.5 million in fines for its involvement without being charged.

Siemaszko, who has maintained his innocence, was one of four workers who prosecutors claimed were at the center of the cover-up. Three went to trial.

But he also was one whom activists described as a whistleblower because of his attempts to get the reactor head cleaned before it went back into service. A federal judge denied him federal whistleblower protection.

Siemaszko's attorneys argued during his trial that FirstEnergy put him in charge of screening the reactor head for flaws despite inadequate training for the job.

He was convicted of falsifying crucial safety documents, as was his former supervisor at the plant, David Geisen. A contractor who was charged as a co-conspirator, Rodney N. Cook, was acquitted. The fourth, Prasoon Goyal, testified against the other three to avoid prosecution.

Siemaszko moved to New Orleans after being fired by FirstEnergy, only to become a Hurricane Katrina refugee in 2005. He then relocated to Texas. Siemaszko said at the time of his sentencing he was unlikely to re-enter the nuclear industry because he had gained employment on offshore oil rigs.

The settlement was made with the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. If Siemaszko ever does try to re-enter the nuclear industry, he must state in writing within 20 days of accepting a job why the NRC should trust him again, according to a statement the agency released last night.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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