MU reaches deal in reactor case

Protecting workers from discrimination and retaliation is part of the agreement.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:51 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

MU has reached a deal with federal regulators that settles a case of employment discrimination and retaliation at the school’s research reactor.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission told University of Missouri system President Elson Floyd in a letter dated Friday that the agency would not pursue further enforcement actions in the case. Commission investigators already had found that a former senior research scientist faced discrimination and retaliation for “protected activities.”

As part of the agreement between the university and the commission, university officials must take steps to protect reactor employees from “employment discrimination or retaliation for engaging in protected activity, including raising safety concerns.”

The commission and the university would not identify the scientist.

However, Bill Yelon, a research scientist, has said he was retaliated against for talking to the U.S. Department of Energy in 1999 about the reactor. A federal lawsuit he filed to gain access to the reactor is still pending.

Yelon claims that after MU forced him to retire, he got a job

with the University of Missouri-Rolla supervising graduate students at the Columbia reactor. Yelon claims he was kicked out in July 2001 and not allowed to return.

Under the agreement finalized last week, the university is required to alter the chain of command overseeing the reactor, implement specific safety training and modify procedures for granting access to the reactor.

The agreement requires the university to change access authorization procedures to “better ensure transparency and clarity in its processes” within 45 days. If the reactor’s director denies access to an applicant, that person will be able to appeal the decision to an ombudsman panel.

The reactor’s director will report to the provost at the Columbia campus, who will report to the University of Missouri system president. System spokesman Joe Moore said that previously the provost reported to the chancellor at the Columbia campus.

The agreement also requires annual training of reactor employees on ensuring a safety-conscious work environment, along with a two-year survey analyzing the culture at the reactor.

Moore said university officials are “gratified” that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will not pursue further action. He said the senior scientist still does not have access to the reactor facility.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission imposed no fine, spokesman Jan Strasma said.

“What this does is, it puts into regulatory force all of these requirements,” Strasma said, “and if the university does not comply with them then that would be subject to enforcement action.”

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