Lake Charles facility at heart of federal probe

ATLANTA (AP) — Federal regulators are investigating whether workers at a factory that supplies parts to nuclear plants broke

quality control rules and falsified records, according to regulatory filings.

A dozen workers at the Shaw Modular Solutions

facility in Lake Charles, admitted to a manager that they sometimes

entered

the identification codes for other workers while recording who

performed welds, according to the company's legal filings.

The filings do not offer further details on the incident. The NRC

would not comment on the ongoing probe, but its rules state

that only a worker who performs a weld can document that it was

completed, agency spokesman Scott Burnell said.

If true, the allegations do not necessarily mean

that the factory's parts are defective or unsafe. But the allegations

would

represent a breakdown in the process intended to guarantee that

parts installed in nuclear power plants meet strict standards

to ensure safety. The case is being handled by the NRC's Office of

Investigations, which probes allegations of wrongdoing.

The factory makes large parts destined for two

nuclear power plants now under construction, Plant Vogtle in Georgia and

Plant

Summer in South Carolina. CB&I, which acquired The Shaw Group

in February, said it is cooperating in the probe and has turned

over all the requested documents.

"When CB&I first learned of the employee's

concerns, we took immediate action," company spokeswoman Gentry Brann

said in a

written statement. "Today, the documentation issue has been

corrected, and we have a full corrective action program in place

to ensure this does not happen again."

The allegations are a setback for a factory that

has been the subject of a large number of whistleblower complaints,

struggled

to meet production schedules and, according to analysts, had

difficulty mastering the strict quality control process required

in the nuclear power industry.

NRC officials requested information in October

about the dozen workers who admitted they used other workers' codes,

according

to documents filed by company lawyers. The company told the NRC

which workers were involved, but it initially resisted handing

over other internal reports. The firm said it was concerned that

the NRC might be forced to publicly release the documents,

undermining the promises of confidentiality to company

whistleblowers who report problems.

NRC commissioners voted April 2 to reject a request from Shaw to revoke the subpoena. The federal safety agency noted that

the documents may be shielded from release under the federal open records act.

"We therefore do not expect such document requests to unduly burden, or otherwise create a chilling effect on, a facility's

effort to promote a safety conscious work environment," the commission said in its order.

The company has been under scrutiny. Last month, the NRC proposed a $36,400 fine against CB&I for discriminating against an

employee who raised a quality concern.

In addition, the NRC has accused Shaw, now

CB&I, of creating a workplace that discouraged employees at the Lake

Charles factory

from raising quality concerns. Federal officials said they

received 19 allegations from people based at the factory from January

2010 to January 2013, more than a third of all vendor-related

allegations received during that period.

"The NRC takes seriously the ability of employees to raise safety concerns without fear of retaliation, and employee protection

from discrimination," said Glenn Tracy, director of the Office of New Reactors, in an April 18 letter to the company.

A survey conducted at the request of Shaw found

that 27 percent of workers were not confident they could raise a quality

concern

without fear of retaliation. In addition, 30 percent of workers

knew someone who suffered a negative reaction from management

after raising a quality concern, according to federal documents.

Problems at the facility prompted the

Atlanta-based Southern Co. to stop shipments of parts from the factory

to its construction

site at Plant Vogtle, southeast of Augusta. The utility and

Westinghouse Electric Co, which designed the plants under construction

in Georgia and South Carolina, have sent their own employees to

monitor progress at the facility.

Southern Co. "has been in contact with the NRC to fully understand the issues," utility spokesman Mark Williams said in a

written statement. The utility expects its contractors to cooperate with NRC requirements, he said.

SCANA Corp. spokeswoman Rhonda O'Banion said the company is confident in the quality of the components it received from CB&I

for the utility's new reactors in South Carolina.