Labor Department rules TVA cooked up cause to fire nuclear whistleblower via Knox News

Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel

The U.S. Department of Labor says the Tennessee Valley Authority fired a nuclear engineer who blew the whistle on safety concerns and lied about it.

The Labor Department is ordering TVA to give Beth Wetzel her job back and shell out more than $200,000 in back pay, lost bonuses and benefits, compensatory damages and legal fees.

TVA said it fired Wetzel for badmouthing supervisor Erin Henderson, but the Labor Department ruled Wetzel properly raised safety concerns about the nuclear program and – when asked by a TVA attorney – gave her “honest” opinion Henderson was too inexperienced for her post and ignored safety complaints.

“(TVA’s) claim it terminated (Wetzel) because she attempted to attack Henderson’s credibility is demonstrably false,” the Labor Department order stated. “Rather, (TVA) terminated (Wetzel) because of the information she provided during (a) chilled work environment investigation, which happened to include her opinions about Henderson.”


“TVA disagrees with (the) findings and order and has formally objected to them and requested a final hearing before a Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge,” Brooks wrote. “TVA will proceed in accordance with the rules and regulations governing a Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge proceeding.”

‘Candid and truthful opinion’
Wetzel, 56, began her nuclear engineering career at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – tasked with oversight of TVA’s nuclear power plants – in 1986.

There weren’t a lot of women when I started,” she told Knox News. “There’s still not a lot of women.”

TVA hired Wetzel in 2006 as a nuclear regulatory manager. Six years later, Wetzel was promoted and, according to the Labor Department order, drew praise from her boss, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Joseph Shea, for her work performance.

Henderson came to TVA with two years of experience working in the chemistry department at a New Jersey nuclear plant and was elevated to director of regulatory affairs in less than six years at TVA. Wetzel’s attorney, Alan R. Kabat, alleged she had “a remarkably fast promotion trajectory” in part because her father was a “good friend” of a TVA executive.

“(Wetzel) provided her candid and truthful opinion that she did not believe Henderson had enough experience to be successful in that position,” the Labor Department order stated. “Nevertheless, Henderson became the Director of Regulatory Affairs in 2016.”

In the next two years, Wetzel would file a series of nuclear safety complaints with Henderson and the NRC, including violations of worker fatigue rules, as part of her job, according to the Labor Department.

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