Dr. Ross Landsman
NRC Region III
630 829 9609
Oscar Shirani's Story
Mr. Oscar Shirani is a
nuclear engineer who was employed in the nuclear industry for 23 years. He
started with Commonwealth Edison, which was later taken over by Exelon, the
nation's largest nuclear utility, as a structural engineer. He has authored
numerous publications in technical trade journals, some of which have been used
as codes and guidelines by nuclear power plant manufacturers and organizations
such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Motor Operated
Valve Users Group (MUG), and American Power Conferences. He has also received
numerous honors and awards from ComEd and various trade groups and was often
invited to lead national quality assurance trainings for other nuclear industry
Besides serving as senior
lead quality assurance inspector for ComEd and Exelon for most of the 1990s, Mr.
Shirani also performed that function for coalitions of nuclear utilities, such
as the Nuclear Users Procurement Issues Committee, or NUPIC. Mr. Shirani was
selected a number of times by NUPIC to lead quality assurance inspections of
Holtec dry casks, which are certified by the NRC to both store and transport
irradiated nuclear fuel, or high-level waste, across the country.
based in Marlton, New Jersey makes dry casks are to be used for storing
high-level waste at thirty-three of the nation's nuclear power plants, including
Indian Point in New York, Quad Cities and Dresden in Illinois. According to the
company's website, they plan to being loading spent fuel into Holtec dry casks
at PSEG's Hope Creek reactor at the Salem site starting in 2006. These casks are
also designed to transport spent fuel on the country's rail lines and public
roads, where up to 50 million people live within half a mile. Faulty containers
increase the likelihood of a nuclear accident at any of those places.
Mr. Shirani and his team
found so many design, manufacturing, and regulatory code violations with the
Holtec dry casks that in May 2000, he recommended that Exelon issue a Stop Work
Order to force the company to correct its faulty practices. Shirani was
particularly concerned about defective welds on the casks that would be weakened
by heat-related stress. Mr. Shirani was already in trouble with ComEd because of
an earlier Stop Work Order he issued against General Electric Nuclear
Engineering (GENE) because of more than 50 design, safety system, and safety
parts violations in GE Boiling Water Reactors, which make up about one-third of
the nation's fleet of nuclear power reactors.
Shirani told ComEd
managers that if they didn't issue the Stop Work Order to Holtec and then used
the casks, Exelon would be liable if there was ever an accident. ComEd issued
the Stop Work Order and soon after, Jim Gill, Chairman of the Dry Cask Quality
Group, requested that ComEd send Shirani to conduct a utility-wide audit,
especially because ComEd's Dresden reactors were going to be the first to use
When Shirani told his
superior, Russ Bastyr, Manager of ComEd's Supply Evaluation Services, about the
request, Bastyr told him not to go, stating that they only audit companies every
two to three years. Shirani then went to Paul Planning, Director of Dry Casks at
the Dresden plants, who also had concerns about Holtec. Planning convinced ComEd
managers to send Shirani to conduct the audit, and Shirani took four of the
company's best engineers with him.
On the first day of the
audit, June 19, 2000, they found major design and welding issues and told Holtec
that the findings didn't look good and that in fact it appeared the company was
violating NRC design regulations. On the second day of the audit, June 20, 2000,
Tom Joyce, the Vice President of Supply for ComEd, told Shirani to leave the
audit and fly to Philadelphia to interview for a position as the Vice President
of Supply for Enterprise, ComEd's non-nuclear division. When Shirani told Joyce
that he was in the middle of conducting an audit, Joyce said that he was
required to go to the interview. With great reluctance, Shirani went to the
interview. His interviewer, Honorio Pavron, was two hours late and promptly told
Shirani that his resume didn't fit the experience the job required.
When Shirani got back to
the audit on June 21, the engineers from Southern Nuclear and New York power had
left and the experts from ComEd had been transferred back to the field. He was
left with three auditors who had with little to no welding experience. Shirani
then extended the audit to the following week, went back to the site with the
two welding engineers he originally selected, and found nine significant
findings with the Holtec casks.
Shirani returned to
Illinois on July 7 and issued his final audit report on August 4. During that
time, Shirani had two job interviews-jobs for which Bastyr recommended him.
Shirani was shocked to find out that one of the jobs was Bastyr's-the Manager of
Supply Evaluation Services. The other job was not in ComEd's nuclear division.
When Shirani interviewed for Bastyr's job, he interviewed with Tony Broccolo,
Bastyr's good friend. Instead of interviewing Shirani about his professional
experience, Broccolo asked Shirani to recall his recent disagreements with
Bastyr so that they were properly documented.
On August 4, Shirani
submitted his final audit report. He also told Bastyr that he needed to conduct
a follow up audit that other utilities were asking for. Basyter told him there
was no budget for a follow up audit.
At the same time Shirani
submitted his audit on Holtec, ComEd was finalizing the merger with PSEG.
Exelon, the new name for the merged utilities, distributed a company-wide email
informing staff that they could apply for numerous merger-related job openings
between August 4 and August 17. Shirani asked Bastyr to nominate him for two
positions. On August 17 and during September, Shirani wrote Bastyr three
reminding him, but Bastyr never responded.
It is important to note
that during this time, the supervisor of an anonymous manager at Exelon's Byron
plant, who had previously raised concerns about safety culture at the plant,
requested his supervisor to nominate him for a new position on August 18. His
supervisor refused to nominate him and he was terminated two months later. He
then filed a whistleblower complaint to the NRC. Since he was clearly in the
right, and Exelon admitted the harassment and agreed to a series of surveys and
trainings they said would improve safety culture at the plant. Since Exelon was
proactive in this case, the NRC did not issue any violations.
However, when the NRC
investigated Shirani's complaints, they didn't take it as seriously since he
wasn't actually terminated. In the end, the NRC accepted the excuse that the
time period for nominating an employee for a new position in the merged company
had expired. This is a blatant double standard, since the employee at the Byron
plant requested nomination on August 18 and Shirani requested nomination a day
earlier, on August 17.
On November 29, 30 and 31,
Holtec hosted a utility-wide users group meeting. Shirani never received the
invite, but when he heard about it from a co-worker, he changed his flight from
a vacation in Brazil to attend. After Dr. Ross Landsman of the NRC's Region III
Decommissioning Branch asking the company some probing questions, Shirani got on
the speakerphone and summarized his findings to the audience and explained how
Exelon wouldn't let him finish the audit. After he spoke, Landsman approached
him, telling him there weren't many people like him left in the industry.
Landsman also said that he was never told about Shirani's audit, even though
Landsman is in charge of all the dry casks in the Midwest.
conversation with Landsman, Dr. Kris Singh, Holtec's President and CEO
approached him. Singh told Shirani not to send Landsman the audit and that it
would ruin Exelon. Singh also offered Shirani a six-figure job at Holtec.
Shirani refused the offer. The following day, Landsman told Shirani that at
dinner the night of November 30, Singh also approached Landsman, telling him to
leave the NRC to come work for Holtec. Landsman also refused the
When Shirani returned to
work on December 1 and told Bastyr about his conversation with Landsman, Bastyr
told Shirani not to send the audit. Shirani then told Bastyr that if he couldn't
send the audit through Exelon, then he would hand deliver it to Landsman.
After Shirani went back and forth with different levels of management and
being belittled and cursed at several times, Exelon sent a censored audit to
Landsman on December 13. In the letter, Exelon wrote that as per their
discussion over the phone, the information was proprietary and was not to be
disclosed to the public. Although Shirani didn't know it at the time, Exelon
altered the conclusion of his August 4 report, stating that the findings had
been resolved. Shirani discovered this falsification when he saw the document at
Department of Labor hearings in 2002.
However, before the letter
was sent to Landsman, Shirani got a call from Ruth Ann Gillis, Senior Vice
President of Exelon's finance division and Executive Sponsor of Exelon's
Asian-American employees. Shirani was a leader in the Asian-American group, so
he knew Gillis even though she was not in the nuclear division. Gillis called
Shirani on December 7 and asked told him she needed to see him in Chicago
immediately. Asir Dasilva, Vice President of Diversity, also called him to
request a meeting with him the same day.
When Shirani met with
Dasilva, Dasilva discouraged him from taking a position as a Diversity Manager
in Exelon's nuclear division, a position Shirani had applied for in October.
Right after the meeting with Dasilva, Shirani met with Gillis, who told him that
Exelon wanted to hire him as a tax manager in the financial division doing
financial audits. Shirani replied with concern, telling her that he had no
financial experience or education. Gillis told him not to worry and that they
would give him six to nine months of training through Arthur Anderson. Gillis
also told him that he was in the line of fire at the nuclear division and that
he didn't have a chance of moving up the chain of command if he stayed
Shirani told Gillis he
would think about the financial job, but never applied. Gillis recommended
Shirani for the position of Principal Auditor Level E4 anyway, with an $8,000
A week later, on
December 19, Gillis called Shirani in the evening. After talking for half an
hour, Gillis persuaded him to take the job. To cover her tracks, Gilis then told
Shirani he needed to call Rich Landy, Vice President of Human Resources in the
nuclear division, and tell Landy he was accepting a different job in the
The next day, on December
20, Shirani received an email from Jon Rowe, Exelon CEO, congratulating him on
his new position. Shirani was surprised to get a personal email from Rowe, a man
in charge of 28,000 employees and 150 vice presidents, congratulating him for a
position that didn't even include managerial responsibility.
Shirani started the new
job in Philadelphia on January 15, 2001. Two days later, on January 17, Landsman
sent a memo to Bruce Jorgensen, NRC Chief of the Region III Decommissioning
Branch, citing serious concerns with Holtec dry casks and emphasizing Shirani's
audit. He wrote, "during discussions [at the Holtec Users Group Meeting in
November 2000], a ComEd QA auditor [Shirani] indicated that U.S. Tool & Die
(the fabricator of the Holtec casks) appears to have a broken corrective action
system. I just received a copy of the audit and discovered that the corrective
action system wasn't the worst thing broken." Landsman proceeded to summarize
Shirani's audit, noting that "the audit was done in June-July 2000, and still
the issues are not resolved. Worse yet, I just discovered that the Audit Team
Leader [Shirani] is being moved sideways on site, out of the audit group. These
findings will be dropped." Landsman concluded that "This audit indicates that in
no way do they [Exelon] meet our Region III requirements in implementation of
the program. Cost and scheduling are controlling the work."
On January 29, Landsman
called Shirani, after discovering that Shirani had moved to the financial
division. Landsman told Shirani he was worried about him, that he guessed Exelon
managers had tricked Shirani into agreeing to be transferred out of the nuclear
division--common industry practice for potential whistleblowers.
Landsman was able to
postpone the loading of the dry casks at Dresden for several months, but his
concerns were eventually overridden by the NRC Nuclear Reactor Regulations
division-the same agency that failed to identify problems with the cask in the
first place. The NRC has sat on the issue since. Landsman refused to sign NRC
papers permitting the loading of the casks, but the NRC has allowed the loading
to occur anyway. Now, the same Holtec dry casks are in use at 33 reactors around
and April 2001, Shirani worked hard at his new job, but never got the training
Gillis had promised. In April, Ellen Caya came in as Vice President of Exelon's
financial auditing division. In May, Caya went to lunch with Shirani. Shirani
told her about all of his troubles in the nuclear division. Caya then told him
she couldn't use him in the financial department, as the job didn't fit his
background. She told him that his position requires eight to fifteen years of
experience and a CPA license and encouraged Shirani to get a job somewhere else.
On July 19, Caya's first
written evaluation of Shirani said he was a diligent, hard worker. Shirani told
Gillis about the evaluation, and two days later, Gillis met with Shirani and
Caya, telling Caya to apologize to Shirani and to keep him on staff.
In September, Shirani and
a few others in the auditing division were required to re-apply for their
positions due to re-organization connected to the merger. When Caya wrote to him
that he needed to have the eight to fifteen years of experience required to keep
his position, Shirani got nervous. Shirani couldn't even apply for a demoted
position as a financial auditor, as it also required four to six years of
experience. He told Martha Garza, Manager of Ethics and Diversity in Exelon's
Human Resources department about his concerns, Garza told him not to worry.
In October, Arthur Anderson evaluation of Shirani contradicted Caya's
earlier review. Soon after the evaluation, Dasilva and Elieter Palacio, Director
of Ethics at Exelon met with Shirani. They told him they didn't want him back in
the nuclear division, that they weren't happy with him in the financial
division, concluding that he should leave the company altogether.
On October 22,
Caya told Shirani he wasn't qualified for his position, as it was changing from
principal auditor to principal manager, and he was fired. At court proceedings
through the Department of Labor, the official letter changing the name of
Shirani's position from auditor to manager was dated on October 26, after
Shirani had already left staff.
According to NRC
whistleblower regulations, a former employee has 180 days after leaving their
job to file a complaint of wrongful termination. Since Shirani's complaints were
related to his job in the nuclear division, but he stayed in the financial
division until October 2001, the 180 day deadline had passed by the time he made
a formal complaint to the NRC on November 31, 2001. The NRC's Office of
Inspector General ruled that Shirani didn't tell the NRC until November 31,
2001, but Shirani contends that he made his concerns clear to the NRC a year
earlier, on November 30, 2000 when he spoke with Landsman.
Shirani's case is
currently in the appeals court of the Department of Labor. Shirani has since
applied for engineering jobs at several nuclear facilities, but feels he has
been blackballed from the industry, even here in New Jersey. In December 2003,
Shirani applied for a job at PSEG's Salem plant. In January, Francis Albert, who
works for Aerotek, the company that handles staffing for PSEG, called him and
flew him out for an interview. At the meeting, Albert and three other PSEG
managers told Shirani he had more knowledge about dry casks than anyone else and
hired him on the spot. Two days later, Albert sent Shirani and email telling him
that Ken Fleischer, a former ComEd electrical engineer, said to say hello. The
next day, Shirani called Albert to finalize the details, and Albert hung up the
phone. Shirani called and emailed Albert but never received a