United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

EA-96-498 - Koppel Steel Corporation

March 19, 1997

EA 96-498

Mr. Hugh Madden
Vice President of Operations
Koppel Steel Corporation
Post Office Box 750
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania 15010

SUBJECT:  NOTICE OF VIOLATION AND PROPOSED IMPOSITION OF CIVIL 
          PENALTY - $8,000 
          (NRC OFFICE OF INVESTIGATIONS (OI) REPORT 1-96-021)

Dear Mr. Madden:

This letter refers to the investigation of Koppel Steel Corporation completed on November 19, 1996, by the NRC Office of Investigations (OI), concerning discrimination against your former Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) after he provided information to an NRC inspector during an NRC inspection at your facility on April 23, 1996. A redacted copy of the OI report was forwarded to you with our letter, dated January 9, 1997. On February 19, 1997, a predecisional enforcement conference was conducted with Mr. Barger and other members of your staff to discuss the violation, its causes, and your corrective actions. A copy of the enforcement conference report was forwarded to you by separate correspondence on February 26, 1997.

The violation is set forth in the enclosed Notice of Violation and Proposed Imposition of Civil Penalty (Notice). Based on the OI investigation, and the results of the predecisional enforcement conference, the NRC has determined that Koppel Steel Corporation discriminated against the former RSO because he provided certain information to the NRC inspector during the April 23, 1996 inspection. Based on that inspection, the NRC previously sent you a Notice of Violation on May 23, 1996, describing five violations of NRC requirements identified during the inspection.

In discussions with the NRC, Koppel Steel has represented that the reason for the termination of the RSO's employment on June 14, 1996 was because he misrepresented to the NRC inspector during the April 1996 inspection that he was not the RSO. While the RSO had provided the NRC inspector with an internal memorandum that the RSO had written in June 1995, stating that he would no longer be responsible for the RSO position, the RSO did not indicate to the inspector that he was not the RSO, nor did the inspector conclude that he was not the RSO. In fact, if the NRC had concluded that you did not have an RSO at the time, that would have been another violation of NRC requirements which would have been included with the Notice of Violation issued on May 23, 1997. However, no such violation was issued.

Accordingly, the NRC maintains that the reason given by Koppel Steel for the termination of the former RSO, namely, misrepresentation to the NRC, was merely a pretext for the real reason for the termination, namely, the RSO's communications with the NRC. 10 CFR 30.7, "Employee Protection," prohibits discrimination by a Commission licensee against an employee for engaging in certain protected activities. Discrimination includes discharge and other actions that relate to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Protected activities are established in Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, as amended, and in general are related to the administration or enforcement of a requirement imposed under the Atomic Energy Act or the Energy Reorganization Act. Protected activities include, but are not limited to, providing the Commission or his or her employer information about alleged violations of either the Atomic Energy Act or the Energy Reorganization Act.

In this case, you violated 10 CFR 30.7 by discriminating against the former RSO. The NRC considers this violation very significant since all employees must feel free to raise safety concerns, either to the NRC, or to their management and supervision, without fear of retaliation. At Koppel Steel, that did not occur, and this violation creates the potential for a chilling effect on other Koppel employees feeling free to raise safety concerns. Since the discriminatory actions in this case involved the Plant Manager and the Manager of Human Resources, this violation has been categorized in accordance with the "General Statement of Policy and Procedure for NRC Enforcement Actions" (Enforcement Policy), NUREG-1600 at Severity Level II.

In accordance with the Enforcement Policy in effect at the time that the violation occurred, a base civil penalty in the amount of $4,000 is considered for a Severity Level II violation. Because the violation is categorized at a Severity Level II, the NRC considered whether credit was warranted for Identification and Corrective Action in accordance with the civil penalty assessment process in Section VI.B.2 of the Enforcement Policy. No credit is warranted for identification since you did not identify the discriminatory action. Also, credit is not warranted for your corrective actions since your corrective actions were neither prompt nor comprehensive. At the time of the enforcement conference on February 19, 1997, you had not provided any formal communication to your employees emphasizing that management supports a climate in which individuals feel free to raise issues without fear of retaliation. You also had not taken any other measure to ensure that such a climate exists and is continually maintained. Although you indicated that you provided training to employees in April 1996 that addressed their rights to raise safety and compliance concerns within your organization to the NRC, this training was provided prior to termination of the RSO's employment and no subsequent action has been taken to assure that there has not been a chilling effect on the willingness of other employees to raise safety and compliance concerns.

Therefore, to emphasize the importance of continuously assuring a work environment that is free of any harassment, intimidation, or discrimination against those who raise safety concerns, I have been authorized, after consultation with the Director, Office of Enforcement, to issue the enclosed Notice in the amount of $8,000, twice the base, for the Severity Level II violation set forth in the Notice. As discussed above, this amount is in accordance with the civil penalty assessment process set forth in the Enforcement Policy.

You are required to respond to this letter and should follow the instructions specified in the enclosed Notice when preparing your response. In your response, you should also describe what additional actions you have taken or planned to ensure that your actions in this case do not have a chilling effect on other employee's willingness to raise safety concerns. The NRC will use your response, in part, to determine whether further enforcement action is necessary to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

In accordance with 10 CFR 2.790 of the NRC's "Rules of Practice," a copy of this letter, its enclosure, and your response will be placed in the NRC Public Document Room (PDR).

                            Sincerely, 

                            ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
                            WILLIAM L. AXELSON FOR

                            Hubert J. Miller 
                            Regional Administrator 

Docket No. 030-20683
License No. 37-20657-01

Enclosure:
Notice of Violation and Proposed Imposition of Civil Penalty

cc w/encl:
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania


NOTICE OF VIOLATION
AND
PROPOSED IMPOSITION OF CIVIL PENALTY
Koppel Steel Corporation                                      Docket No. 030-20683
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania                                    License No. 37-20657-01
                                                              EA 96-498

During an investigation completed on November 19, 1996 by the NRC Office of Investigations, a violation of NRC requirements was identified. In accordance with the "General Statement of Policy and Procedure for NRC Enforcement Actions," (Enforcement Policy), NUREG 1600, the NRC proposes a civil penalty pursuant to Section 234 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended (Act), 42 U.S.C. 2282 and 10 CFR 2.205. The violation and associated civil penalty are set forth below:

10 CFR 30.7(a) prohibits discrimination by a Commission licensee against an employee for engaging in certain protected activities. Discrimination includes discharge and other actions that relate to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Protected activities as described in 10 CFR 30.7(a)(1) include, in part, providing the Commission information about possible violations of the requirements imposed by the Atomic Energy Act or the Energy Reorganization Act.

Contrary to the above, on June 14, 1996, the licensee discriminated against an employee for engaging in protected activities. Specifically, the Radiation Safety Officer was discharged from employment by the licensee for providing an NRC inspector with information during an NRC inspection on April 23, 1996. The information provided during the inspection, in part, resulted in the NRC issuance of a Notice of Violation to the licensee on May 23, 1996, for five violations of NRC requirements identified during that inspection.

This is a Severity Level II violation (Supplement VII).
Civil Penalty - $8,000.

Pursuant to the provisions of 10 CFR 2.201, Koppel Steel Corporation is hereby required to submit a written statement or explanation to the Director, Office of Enforcement, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, within 30 days of the date of this Notice of Violation and Proposed Imposition of Civil Penalty (Notice). This reply should be clearly marked as a "Reply to a Notice of Violation" and should include for each alleged violation: (1) admission or denial of the alleged violation, (2) the reasons for the violation if admitted, and if denied, the reasons why, (3) the corrective steps that have been taken and the results achieved, (4) the corrective steps that will be taken to avoid further violations, and (5) the date when full compliance will be achieved. If an adequate reply is not received within the time specified in this Notice, an Order or a Demand for Information may be issued as why the license should not be modified, suspended, or revoked or why such other action as may be proper should not be taken. Consideration may be given to extending the response time for good cause shown. Under the authority of Section 182 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 2232, this response shall be submitted under oath or affirmation.

Within the same time as provided for the response required above under 10 CFR 2.201, the Licensee may pay the civil penalty by letter addressed to the Director, Office of Enforcement, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with a check, draft, money order, or electronic transfer payable to the Treasurer of the United States in the amount of the civil penalty proposed above, or the cumulative amount of the civil penalties if more than one civil penalty is proposed, or may protest imposition of the civil penalty in whole or in part, by a written answer addressed to the Director, Office of Enforcement, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Should the Licensee fail to answer within the time specified, an order imposing the civil penalty will be issued. Should the Licensee elect to file an answer in accordance with 10 CFR 2.205 protesting the civil penalty, in whole or in part, such answer should be clearly marked as an "Answer to a Notice of Violation" and may: (1) deny the violation listed in this Notice, in whole or in part, (2) demonstrate extenuating circumstances, (3) show error in this Notice, or (4) show other reasons why the penalty should not be imposed. In addition to protesting the civil penalty in whole or in part, such answer may request remission or mitigation of the penalty.

In requesting mitigation of the proposed penalty, the factors addressed in Section VI.B.2 of the Enforcement Policy should be addressed. Any written answer in accordance with 10 CFR 2.205 should be set forth separately from the statement or explanation in reply pursuant to 10 CFR 2.201, but may incorporate parts of the 10 CFR 2.201 reply by specific reference (e.g., citing page and paragraph numbers) to avoid repetition. The attention of the Licensee is directed to the other provisions of 10 CFR 2.205, regarding the procedure for imposing a civil penalty.

Upon failure to pay any civil penalty due which subsequently has been determined in accordance with the applicable provisions of 10 CFR 2.205, this matter may be referred to the Attorney General, and the penalty, unless compromised, remitted, or mitigated, may be collected by civil action pursuant to Section 234c of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 2282c.

The response noted above (Reply to Notice of Violation, letter with payment of civil penalty, and Answer to a Notice of Violation) should be addressed to: James Lieberman, Director, Office of Enforcement, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, One White Flint North, 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852-2738, with a copy to the Regional Administrator, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Region I.

Because your response will be placed in the NRC Public Document Room (PDR), to the extent possible, it should not include any personal privacy, proprietary, or safeguards information so that it can be placed in the PDR without redaction. If personal privacy or proprietary information is necessary to provide an acceptable response, then please provide a bracketed copy of your response that identifies the information that should be protected and a redacted copy of your response that deletes such information. If you request withholding of such material, you must specifically identify the portions of your response that you seek to have withheld and provide in detail the bases for your claim of withholding (e.g., explain why the disclosure of information will create an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy or provide the information required by 10 CFR 2.790(b) to support a request for withholding confidential commercial or financial information). If safeguards information is necessary to provide an acceptable response, please provide the level of protection described in 10 CFR 73.21.

Dated at King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
this 19th day of March 1997

 

 

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