George Galatis was a senior engineer at Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford, Connecticut, when he discovered something was dreadfully wrong. Spent fuel-rod pools at Unit 1 threatened to boil, potentially releasing radioactive steam throughout the plant. The pools were not designed to serve as nuclear dumps. During the refueling process, federal guidelines required antiquated plants like Millstone to move only one-third of the rods into the pools, but Galatis found all of the hot fuel had been dumped into them. On other occasions, alarms would sound as the fuel was unloaded just 65 hours after a shutdown, far sooner than the mandated cool-down period of 250 hours. Supervisors were winking at the routine violations in order to save two weeks of downtime, which would cost the company $500,000 per day in replacement power. Fearing the violations could lead to an accident threatening thousands of lives, Galatis told his colleague George Betancourt they should contact the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) immediately. Betancourt, who would join Galatis in attempts to make the plant safe, agreed but was concerned for his colleague's future. "You do that," he said, "and you're dog meat."The year was 1992. It now has been more than four years since Galatis made the March 4, 1996, cover of Time after crusading against unsafe practices at the nuclear power plant. Little noticed at the time were the biblical convictions that led him to stand up to his industry superiors.
"This isn't church"
When Galatis warned plant managers of the public-health risks and urged them to stop the hazardous practices, they refused. Since many of his supervisors were churchgoers, he was baffled. "This is business," he was told. "This isn't church." They in turn were baffled when Galatis would not let up. "This was not splitting hairs," Galatis says. "These were not technical issues. These were moral issues."Galatis warned his supervisors what could happen: eventual shutdown, decommissioning of the plants, and criminal investigations. But after two years, nothing had changed—except the workplace atmosphere in which Galatis found himself. When he sat down to lunch in the company cafeteria, coworkers left. When he entered a meeting, the room fell silent. Coworkers spread rumors that he was an alcoholic, and his performance evaluation suffered. An "all's well" attitude by the company and denial by his coworkers left Galatis with no easy choice. He could quit, follow his inkling to become a clergyman, and make it someone else's problem. Or he could stay and fight. Unlike any other time in his life, Galatis began an intense search for God's guidance. He awoke at 4 a.m. to pray, read Scripture, and record his struggles and thoughts in his journal. During lunch breaks, he sometimes drove to a secluded place to pray and search the Bible. It was during one of these prayer times that Galatis believed God whispered to him, "Will you die for me?" Though he feared for his safety at times, Galatis realized there were many ways of dying: his livelihood, his reputation, and his family were at stake. How many men in their early 40s can lose high-paying jobs and start a second career with ease? Past whistleblowers' families had brooked intense emotional strain. The recently remarried Galatis feared the pressures would threaten his second marriage. He believed that Northeast Utilities (NU), owner of the nuclear plants, would hire one of the nation's top law firms to fight him."I knew what the utilities could do, what the regulators could do, what the press could do, what the state government could do," Galatis says. But after months of prayer and study, he concluded that no matter how much he was badgered, God would not allow him to be devastated. In 1994 he decided to contact the NRC. Galatis knew the NRC had known about Millstone's dangerous practices for 10 years but had taken no action. Similar cases of lax enforcement by the NRC abounded, so he wasn't surprised when the agency offered him no refuge.Unfortunately, neither did his church. He felt members kept their distance, and he was dismayed that few Christians supported him. When disparaging comments about his character appeared in local newspapers, for example, no supportive letters to the editor came forth. When Galatis petitioned the NRC in August 1995 to suspend Millstone's license, his cause became public and the pressure on him increased. Coworkers confronted him in the hallways and in his office. Some called him a fool; others said he was a troublemaker. He was subtly intimidated and harassed for months, and coworkers often told him, "Shut up and keep your job."
A dangerous multi-year game
Galatis did gain the support of Susan Perry Luxton, who lived a few miles from the power plant. When she questioned town officials about the accusations, they told her Galatis was just a drunk and an embittered employee. This didn't make sense to her. Luxton says she found Galatis soft-spoken."You could tell he was a man of integrity," she says. "He was obviously a spiritual man."Luxton formed a grassroots watchdog organization called Citizens Regulatory Commission (CRC) that held public meetings to discuss power-plant violations. Whistleblowers at CRC meetings recounted tales of psychological abuse, isolation, and poor evaluations that led to firings. At one point, before a meeting at which she was to confront plant officials, Luxton became frightened. Galatis pointed her toward Psalms that talked about God as a refuge and source of strength. Luxton thought he was crazy, but she read the passages anyway. "It was so powerful, it got me through," she says.At a fundraiser organized by We the People (a nonprofit organization de signed to aid whistleblowers in the nuclear industry), Time reporter Eric Pooley became convinced of Galatis's integrity. Pooley's March 1996 special investigative report on U.S. nuclear safety was prompted by Galatis' showdown with nu. Pooley dubbed Galatis and fellow senior engineer Betancourt "nuclear warriors" who had caught the NRC "at a dangerous game it has played for years: routinely waiving safety rules to let plants keep costs down and stay online."The newsmagazine also cited an NRC study revealing that the number of safety and harassment allegations filed by workers at Northeast was three times the industry average.Donald Del Core Sr. was one such worker. The instrument technician, who was fired in 1991 and later received a settlement from the company, preceded Galatis and faced similar obstacles when he voiced safety concerns.Del Core says he and another employee filed approximately 1,000 complaints with the NRC, asserting NU was not following its own safety procedures. Among the more serious complaints were charges that management was operating the plant when it should have been closed for repairs, including the fixing of faulty radiation-monitoring devices.Despite submitting more than 250 job applications to other companies, Del Core never again found work in the nuclear industry. The 60-year-old Connecticut resident says he will never get over the stress he suffered from his days at the power plant. He misses his job."It's one thing to get a retirement check, it's another thing to have a purpose in life," he says.
View from the back seat
In 1996, after four years of pressure, Galatis obtained a severance agreement with Millstone and left. The NRC never suspended the Millstone license, but three reactors were shut down for widespread repairs at a cost of at least $1 billion, according to a follow-up report in Time. A criminal investigation was launched. For economic reasons, Millstone 1 will never reopen. The Millstone 3 plant did not reopen until July 1998. Millstone 2 opened last year after months of corrections. Not until March 1999 did the NRC rescind an order requiring that an independent agency be located at the plant to monitor the work environment. Millstone has modified its offload procedure, moving all the rods in stages. Galatis is now 47 years old and attends Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; he wants to pastor a church. He had been considering seminary while an engineer, and the situation at Millstone clarified that career move.When Christians across the country who have read the Time article call him for advice on how they should handle similar workplace dilemmas, he offers not solutions but a pointed challenge: "How strong is your faith?" If Jesus Christ is not their primary source of strength, he says, circumstances will overwhelm them. Relinquishing control is another key, he says. Galatis never felt the Millstone situation was his to manipulate or control. "Whatever I needed, God gave me," he says. "Throughout this whole thing, I felt like I was in the back seat of the car and the Lord was driving."As a pastor, Galatis expects to redirect his zeal toward the church. His analysis: Christians' racial prejudice and failure to provide a holy outpost amid secular society are two concerns that sound alarms in him. He would like to work in a rural church and help set up programs allowing minorities more opportunities to attend seminary.After another three semesters at seminary and planned ordination in the United Church of Christ, Galatis hopes to help others."I want to make it very clear what it means to be a Christian," he says. "For us to be called disciples, we have to have a passion for the gospel message, and that passion is going to cost us something."
Adam Bowlesis a reporter for the Norwich Bulletin in Connecticut and a freelance writer for The New York Times.
Learn more about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission .Visit the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary site.Other media coverage about Galatis and nuclear regulation includes:A Whistleblower's Saga —South Bend Tribune (May 28, 2000) The Nitty-Gritty of Integrity —WWC Magazine (July 1, 1999) Nuclear Safety Fallout —Time (March 17, 1997) NRC, utilities a powerful partnership —The Boston Globe (Sept. 3, 1996) Nuclear Warriors —Time (March 4, 1996)
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