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Safety Concerns at Shuttered Nuke Plant

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - Southern California Edison forced a fire inspector to quit after he raised concerns about the safety and security of its San Onofre nuclear power plant, the man claims in court.

Vinod Arora, an inspector and engineer, claims SoCal Edison, majority owner of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, constructively fired him in 2012 after he raised concerns about plant safety amid disharmony between Edison and Mitsubishi - the company hired to design and deliver two replacement steam generators.

Edison announced last summer that it would permanently retire two nuclear reactors at the plant. Decommissioning the plant cost thousands of jobs and estimated losses of $10 billion.

In a July lawsuit , minority shareholder San Diego Gas & Electric blamed Mitsubishi for the shutdown, claiming the Japanese multinational sold the plant $135 million steam generators that began leaking radiation in their first year of service.

Arora worked for Edison as a fire inspector for almost six years before he resigned in 2012.

Under the Energy Reorganization Act, Edison was forbidden from retaliating against him for reporting his concerns, he says in the lawsuit.

Arora's troubles began, he says, when he wrote a report critical of the plant's maintenance director Bob Sholler, after longstanding concerns about fire risks associated with welding, grinding and cutting work at the plant.

That was in January 2012, around the time when the leak and cracks in the generator tubes were discovered. The plant stopped generating power shortly thereafter.

Arora claims that rather than address his concerns, Nuclear Oversight Director Oscar Flores marched him over to Sholler's office and demanded that he apologize.

Arora says that a few days later he warned supervisors that their failure to monitor a reactor was increasing the risk of a fire. Though a 2001 fire had shut down one of the reactors for 5 months at a cost of $100 million, the supervisors ignored his warnings, Arora claims.

Later in 2012, Arora says, Flores and his immediate supervisor Russ Nielsen confronted him with "insults and harassment" after he pointed out "competing priorities" over safety between Edison and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Arora claims he wrote a notification seeking to resolve the issue, but his superiors forced him to cancel it.

When he tried to take action after an anonymous report stated that 1,300 workers had not completed cyber-security training, Flores and Nielsen again admonished him, according to the complaint.

The harassment continued, Arora says, when he wrote emails to Mitsubishi and Edison warning about potential problems in one of the reactors. For his trouble, he claims, Flores and Nielsen tried to drum up phony charges against him by forcing him to take psychological and drug tests.

When those efforts failed, Edison ramped up its efforts to discredit him, Arora says.

"It was no coincidence that Arora begin receiving employment write-ups entered into his personnel file containing false accusations of missed work and being late to work without permission from his superiors. SCE [Southern California Edison] corporate investigators began to monitor Arora's actions and watch him carefully throughout his daily activities," the lawsuit states.

Arora had injured his right arm and elbow when he fell from a turbine deck during a January 2012 inspection. Though the injuries did not interfere with his work, Edison used them as a pretext to force him to resign, writing him up and setting "unreasonable deadlines" for his work, according to the complaint.

Arora seeks damages for constructive termination, breach of implied contract, breach of faith, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

He is represented by Thomas McIntosh.

Edison, the only named defendant, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment after business hours Wednesday.

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