John Glenn – A Hero to Nuclear Whistleblowers

2016 has been a whirlwind year for Fairewinds Energy Education that included a long list of accomplishments of which we are very proud. We are already planning and preparing new projects for 2017 that we can’t wait to unveil and share with you as the year progresses!  

In the current highly charged political atmosphere of post-truth media and political shenanigans, now, more than ever, fact-based investigative research is all the more essential. As we always have, we at Fairewinds Energy Education pledge to continue using only in-depth research and credible sources for all of our work.

Speaking the truth is non-negotiable. Fairewinds work is meant to raise the questions that the atomic power industry, its lobbyists, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) won’t answer. Every day, members of the Fairewinds Crew, our colleagues, and science advisors work to ensure the safety of the air we breathe, the food we eat, and water we drink. Uncovering nuclear power regulatory failure, leaking radioactive waste, and advocating for safer, cheaper, and environmentally compatible sources of energy are an integral part of Fairewinds mission.

As we head into this new year of 2017, it is crucial that we have your support. Please become a member of Fairewinds Community, and please donate to help us continue this work. We will keep you informed! 

Before we move too far into the future, here is our most important work and research by Fairewinds in 2016:

-Smokescreen Animation:
November 17th, Fairewinds released a 2-minute animated video entitled Smokescreen – based on scientific research that shows that building new nuclear power plants actually makes global warming worse! Not only that, but using atomic power reactors to solve our energy crisis will cost more than 8-Trillion-dollars [$8,000,000,000,000]. Yes, you read that right - $8 Trillion! Our country can’t afford that – we need affordable energy that brings jobs – and that will be building solar and wind energy right here in the US – not sending jobs overseas.


*Please see the bottom of this newsletter for all of our other accomplishments!

In Case You Missed It: Fairewinds Looks back with Best of 2011-2014 Video

Back in 2014, we created a DVD featuring our best videos from 2011 to 2015 and sent it out as an extra thank you to donors. This year we decided we would release the video so it can be watched by everyone! Watch as Fairewinds takes utilities and government regulators to task and force them to responsibly address nuclear safety risks. 

Demystifying Nuclear Power:

Meeting John Glenn, My Hero Twice Over By Arnie Gundersen
Following the passing of the American national hero, noted astronaut, and Senator John Glenn on December 8, 2016, at 95-years old, I wrote a brief tribute in Fairewinds December 16 Newsletter. I promised to write a follow-up article about meeting personally with Senator John Glenn when he protected nuclear whistleblowers.  

Just like millions of other Americans in the ‘60’s, I idolized Astronaut John Glenn, a former Marine fighter pilot who became a test pilot and then an astronaut.  When I was in middle school and had just turned 13, and I had pictures of the seven original astronauts pinned to my bedroom wall when Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth on February 20, 1962. He orbited Earth three times in the space capsule named Friendship 7, and I still have a scrapbook of newspaper clippings from that 1962 trip into space and a vinyl record of his conversations while in orbit! 

To me Glenn was not only smart and brave, he also represented the hopefulness and integrity of the American dream. John Glenn inspired me to become an engineer and to continue pursuing America’s engineering accomplishments.  In fact, when I graduated in 1972 from Rensselaer Polytechnic with my Master Degree in Nuclear Engineering, my goal was to be the project manager for the first nuclear power plant on the moon! And after believing all the 1960’s hype about the US Space Program, I was sure that Americans could accomplish such a goal.

As the NASA space program faced budget cuts and space exploration was curtailed, I pursued my nuclear engineering career here on earth as a project manager, engineering director, and senior vice president in the atomic power industry.  After idolizing Astronaut John Glenn as a 13-year-old little did I know that 30 years later I would meet Senator John Glenn in person, and he would also become my hero. 

Thus when Astronaut and Senator John Glenn passed December 8th, I was once again reminded of the active support he gave me when I first became a nuclear whistleblower. When Senator Glenn held Congressional hearings in 1993 to determine why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) deliberately distorted and covered-up the important safety and health allegations, his staff asked me to come to Washington to be part of the hearing. The NRC had ruined my professional reputation and were it not for Senator Glenn's intervention on behalf of all nuclear whistleblowers, the NRC would never have acknowledged their bungled inspection and cozy relationship with the atomic power industry.

The details: In 1990, I was a senior vice president with Nuclear Energy Services (NES) in Danbury, Connecticut. In my role as the senior vice president for NES, I was a corporate officer with fiduciary duties to the corporation, meaning that I had a legal obligation to act in the best interest of the corporation. So when I uncovered nuclear safety violations by my employer, I notified the president of the company as required by federal law.  I honestly believed the company would promptly correct the violations.  At that time NES had a stellar reputation as one of the go-to nuclear power engineering firms to help correct engineering and safety issues within the atomic power industry.  Instead, I was promptly fired for uncovering these safety violations and trying to have them corrected.  

After I was fired, I then notified the NRC about the safety violations as required by federal law.  The NRC arrived and performed a cursory inspection at NES, and claimed they found no violations.  I was dumbfounded because I knew I was right and that there really were violations – some of them quite serious. So one of Connecticut’s US Senators requested a formal inspection by the NRC’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), an independent investigative group tasked with oversight of the NRC to assure it upholds federal law. Senator John Glenn served as the head of the Senate Government Oversight Committee, which was responsible for oversight of the NRC Inspector General.  

Following a two-year in-depth federal investigation, the OIG discovered that I was correct and there really were safety violations that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had deliberately swept under the rug. The Inspector General’s report also supported my claim that NRC Inspectors had accepted illegal gratuities from my former employer NES.  This OIG report was sent to Senator John Glenn along with a scathing newspaper series by Ted Wendling of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that covered my whistleblowing odyssey and the NRC’s cover-up of patient deaths from radiation used in hospitals.  Due to the severity of these investigations Senator Glenn demanded a public hearing in Washington DC regarding the NRC’s cover-up of safety issues brought forward to the agency by me and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The 1993 Cleveland Plain Dealer radiation series about victims of bungled radiation therapy and lax regulation by the NRC was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

Here is the transcript of the questions Senator Glenn asked the Chairman of the NRC.  The emphasis in bold is added.

Committee Chairman Senator John Glenn: “…The OIG review resulted in the re-inspection and validation of a number of allegations raised by Connecticut citizen Mr. Arnold Gundersen, which originally were missed by a faulty NRC inspection.”

Committee Chairman Senator John Glenn: “…what is the NRC doing to assure that Commission employees don’t engage in potential conflict of interest practices?”

NRC Chairman Selin: “… it is true.  Everything Mr. Gundersen said was absolutely right; he performed quite a service….”  “…I mean it was the familiarization and the fraternization that was more worrisome…We are very concerned about this situation.  We are sharpening our regulations, but in this case there is no question that the actions happened as described by the IG, people knew or should have known that they should not have done these actions… But that is a very worrisome situation- both of fraternization with the licensees and then the well-meaning but very dangerous practice of recommending people to licensees to help them solve problems.”[1]

When the hearing was over, I walked down and thanked Senator Glenn for his efforts on my behalf.  I could see that Senator Glenn was still visibly angry at the NRC, and he said to me:

“You know Arnie, what really pisses me off is that only three years ago, I had to shove the oversight of the Inspector General down the NRC’s god-damned throat.  Now they come in here and take credit for the OIG’s investigation of your concerns.  It’s just not right.”

From his language, I knew the former Marine was really angry! I thanked him again, shook his hand and left the Capitol Building.  Those same characteristics of being smart, brave, and hopeful in pursuing and protecting the integrity of the American dream that I admired in him as an astronaut were still a part of him in his role as a United States Senator. Today all of us can only dream of such an American hero in our current political quagmire.

 Thank you, Senator Glenn, for your service to our country and to me personally. You will always be my hero!

[1] Partial Hearing Transcript before the Committee on Governmental Affairs, May 6, 1993

Continued 2016 accomplishments:

-Truthout Publication - November 14:
Arnie’s report, Nuclear Energy Is Not Green Energy. It Is A Fount Of Atomic Waste was published by Truthout and has received more than 3.8 thousand likes and counting on Facebook. 

-Power Struggle Film Debut - October 23:

Maggie and Arnie Gundersen are featured in a full-length documentary film by Robbie Leppzer of Turning Tide Productions that chronicles the conflict surrounding the re-licensing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Read more about the film in our Newsletter. 

-CO2 Smokescreen: New Nukes Make Global Warming Worse Keynote by Arnie Gundersen - August 8-10:
Arnie spoke at the University of Quebec and McGill University in Montreal, Quebec for the World Social Forum.

-Gendai Business Magazine Publication - June 14: 
After Arnie returned from Japan, hundreds of radioactive samples needed to be analyzed. This article, which was featured in Gendai Business Magazine, announces some of those results. Arnie concludes that land allegedly cleaned by TEPCO is constantly recontaminated by radiation from forests and mountains blowing in the wind or coming down in rain and snowmelt – these are areas are impossible to decontaminate. This article has more than 20,000 Facebook likes!

-The Nationwide Failures of Decommissioning Regulation: Decommissioning Trust Funds or Slush Funds? Report - March 22:
Thanks to a grant from the Lintilhac Foundation, Fairewinds used the ongoing lack of adequate planning in regards to the decommissioning process at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant as a case study reported to the NRC for issues facing communities throughout the US. Entergy, the corporation that owns Yankee, has been allowed by the NRC to raid decommissioning funds set aside by ratepayers for uses other than decommissioning. Listen to the full podcast on our website.


-Arnie in Japan-February 9 - March 4: Fairewinds Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen, spent 4 weeks in Japan speaking with a variety of audiences including government officials, legislators, engineers, scientists, evacuees, community leaders, and national regulatory bodies regarding the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Atomic Reactors and the ongoing radioactive contamination that continues to migrate to many areas of Japan. Listen to the podcasts here.   

-Middlebury College Student Global Affairs Conference: Power and Protest Presentation – January 22:
In January, Fairewinds was invited to Middlebury College to discuss the risk and burden of a nuclear powered energy future at the student organized event, Power and Protest