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Labor Department Says PG&E Unfair To Nuclear Plant Whistle-Blower

New York Times Tuesday, April 11, 2000 sectionssections

Washington -- The Department of Labor has concluded that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. maneuvered to have psychiatrists find ``paranoid delusions'' in a veteran manager because he complained publicly about safety problems and management inaction at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says there is no evidence of any retaliation against the manager, Neil J. Aiken, who was a shift foreman from 1983 until he received the diagnosis in 1998, and the commission does not believe that the incident or the Department of Labor report will make others reluctant to come forward with safety problems they observe on the job.

The utility company says it had only public safety in mind when it sent Aiken, now 54, to psychiatrists for an evaluation.

Aiken, unemployed, recently reached a settlement with the company that included early retirement. As a result, the utility's appeal of the Labor Department report will not be heard.

Four operators and managers at the plant said they believed that Aiken was mentally sound and was fired because he embarrassed top executives.

For years, Aiken complained about problems at Diablo, near San Luis Obispo, where he had worked since before the plant was completed. In April 1998, he went to a shareholders meeting and distributed a paper detailing his criticism.

Soon after, the utility sent him to two psychiatrists, under a program that the NRC requires it to maintain. One described Aiken, who went into the nuclear industry after learning electronics in the Marine Corps, as suffering from a ``delusional disorder, persecutory type.'' The psychiatrists declared Aiken a threat to security, and the company revoked his security clearance. Late last year, it fired him.

But a report issued in November by the Labor Department, which enforces laws against harassment of whistle-blowers, suggested that the real problem was that Aiken had publicly embarrassed his superiors. Notes by one psychiatrist, the Labor Department report said, show that the doctor's conversations with utility executives before he did his work were ``more about how to remove Mr. Aiken from his position than to make a fair, unbiased evaluation of Mr. Aiken's mental state.''

-- Carl Jenkins (, April 12, 2000

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