MIAMI — At 1:09 one afternoon last year, 90 metal rods slid into the cores of the two nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, part of an automatic shutdown that had been triggered by a utility worker's blunder moments earlier at a substation miles away. A million customers lost power.
Florida Power & Light executives ordered that the reactors be back online within 12 hours, according to court documents. The plant's top nuclear operator, David Hoffman, said that would be dangerous. When FPL executives disagreed, he walked out at 8 p.m., refusing to participate in actions he felt were unsafe.
At 11:49 that night, Feb. 26, 2008, he submitted a heated resignation letter, blasting FPL for constantly putting cost savings ahead of safety and creating a horrible morale problem.
The information came to light because FPL is suing him for the return of a bonus, and he's charging in a countersuit that the utility is improperly trying to silence his complaints about safety.
The company is suing Hoffman, insisting that he return a bonus of $50,000 he was given on condition he work at FPL until 2010.
The retention bonuses exist because there has long been a scarcity of nuclear operators.
But the pay has not made many operators feel good about FPL. A survey of Turkey Point employees last year about the process for reporting safety issues found that more than one in four — 29.2 percent — disagreed with the following statement: "I am confident that nuclear safety and quality issues reported through the ECP (employee concerns program) are thoroughly investigated and appropriately resolved."