FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A former St. Lucie Nuclear Plant worker is suing Florida Power & Light Co. claiming he was hounded out of his job because he reported a coolant leak and ordered a costly reactor shutdown.
Mark W. Hicks prevented "a possible nuclear meltdown at the plant," according to a lawsuit Deerfield Beach attorney Peter Ticktin filed in St. Lucie County circuit court Aug. 29.
Hicks was in the nuclear plant's control room Nov. 21, 2009, when a reactor began to start up and "noticed that a code safety relief valve had lifted, causing leakage of the reactor's coolant," the lawsuit claims.
It was the same type of coolant leak that "caused the partial nuclear core meltdown on March 28, 1979, known as the Three Mile Island Accident in Middleton, Pa.," the suit states.
Hicks followed both FPL procedures and federal guidelines by ordering the shutdown, but FPL Executive Vice President Manoochehr Nazar "ordered Hicks to sign off on starting up the reactor without fixing the valves," the suit states.
Hicks refused and it later was discovered that he was correct: three valves were out of alignment, causing the leak, the suit states.
Michael Waldron, FPL's director of nuclear communications, called Hicks' allegations a "complete work of fiction filled with timelines that don't match the record, inflammatory personal attacks and out-and-out lies. ... Anyone can claim anything, at anytime; it doesn't make it true."
The cost of shutting down the reactor and fixing the valves cost FPL about $6 million; and rather than laud Hicks for saving lives, his superiors "decided to 'shoot the messenger," the suit states.
Nazar and other FPL officials "planned to torment Hicks to make his continued employment intolerable, with the hope that he would quit," the suit claims. When Hicks didn't quit, FPL officials eliminated his position by saying the project he was working on had been completed, the suit states. Hicks was terminated June 25. Waldron said FPL offered to help Hicks find another job in the company, but he refused.
The St. Lucie plant did not have a coolant leak or a shutdown in November 2009, Waldron said, adding that both reactors were "operating at 100 percent" at the time and not undergoing a startup.
FPL "is uncompromising when it comes to the safety of our plants, our employees and the communities we serve," Waldron said. "As an operator of nuclear power plants, our No. 1 priority is safety and under no circumstances would we allow the types of behaviors that Mr. Hicks alleges in his complaint."
Nazar has been "a driving force within the industry for higher nuclear safety standards," Waldron said. "Mr. Hicks' outrageous claims run counter to the demonstrated track record of Mr. Nazar's entire career."