A nuclear power plant on the Lake Michigan shore is under the watchful eye of the federal government after former workers claim security personnel may be afraid of reporting their concerns for fear of retaliation.
Palisades Nuclear Plant in South Haven, Michigan, borders the main source of drinking water for millions of people in Chicago.
But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission identified a "chilled work environment" within the plant's security department after staff perceived that two supervisors were terminated after raising concerns and that security management was unresponsive to employees' concerns.
"It is dangerous. When people are afraid to raise concerns over the fear of losing their job and that's what's going on out there," said former security supervisor Chris Mikusko.
Mikusko and fellow supervisor Roland Ruby worked in the security department at Palisades for a combined 39 years. They claim they were fired in late 2013 months after telling managers how an unqualified supervisor worked part of a security shift.
"Our management should know better," Ruby said. "They should know this and we had to point it out for them."
Both men filed complaints with the US Department of Labor.
"Our management just decided to turn the other way, to look at us as troublemakers," Ruby said.
The NRC also investigated the incident and concluded there was a willful violation and said both the security manager and the security operations supervisor failed to verify the security operations supervisor's qualification for a posting prior to having him assume that position for two hours on December 24, 2012.
Entergy, which owns the nuclear plant, said it is taking steps to make sure that a similar incident does not happen again. However, the company disagrees that it was intentional.
The NRC ordered Palisades to improve the safety culture in its security department but in May informed the plant's senior management that the quality of the actions taken to correct the chilled work environment needed improvement.
The NRC said within the next six months it will conduct a thorough inspection to determine if the plant's actions have been effective.
Entergy said it is always working toward improving all of its operations.
"We owe it to our employees to create a work environment where they feel free to raise concerns and be confident they'll be addressed," said Lindsay Rose, spokesperson for Entergy.
The NRC said it pays close attention to safety culture issues because they can be precursors to violations of NRC regulations and a decline in plant safety or security. However, an NRC spokesperson said it is important to note that there has been no degradation in the security organization's ability to affectively protect the plant.
Critics, however, said Palisades still poses a risk.
"They've got a very serious safety and security and accident potential at Palisades because of the age of the reactor," said Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist for Beyond Nuclear, a nuclear watchdog group.
NBC 5 Investigates reported in August, 2013, that Palisades informed the NRC of seven leaks in less than two years. The leaks caused six plant shutdowns and one leak spilled 79 gallons of radioactive water into Lake Michigan.
"We wouldn’t operate if we couldn’t do it 100 percent safely and the NRC wouldn’t let us operate if we were not 100 percent safe," Rose said.
Rose said operations at Palisades are going "very well" in 2014. She said there have been two shutdowns this year for planned repairs.