Nuclear Whistleblower FAQ

Published on June 20, 2018

Q: What federal laws protect nuclear whistleblowers?

Whistleblowers in the nuclear power and nuclear weapons industries are specifically protected under section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act.

Q: Who is protected?

Private sector employees and federal employees working for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or the Department of Energy, including:

  • Contractors or subcontractors,
  • Licensee of the NRC,
  • Contractors and subcontractors of an NRC licensee,
  • Applicant for a license and the applicant’s contractors and subcontractors.
Q: Who can file a complaint?

Any employee who believes he or she has been discriminated against in retaliation for "blowing the whistle" on a nuclear safety or quality control problem.

Q: What is illegal discrimination?

Almost any adverse change to the whistleblower's terms and conditions of employment is prohibited. This includes a wide range of actions from reprimands to terminations and blacklisting.

Q: Where should complaints be filed?

These laws are administered by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Complaints may be filed orally or in writing and should be filed with the local OSHA Office of the DOL and/or mailed to:

U.S. Department of Labor
Office of the Assistant Secretary Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Room: S2315
200 Constitution Avenue Washington, D.C. 20210
(202) 693-2000

Q: What is the statute of limitations?

A nuclear industry employee filing a complaint under the Energy Reorganization Act must file within 180 days after a violation occurs. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the date of the postmark, facsimile transmittal, e-mail communication, telephone call, hand-delivery, delivery to a third-party commercial carrier, or in-person filing at an OSHA office will be considered the date of filing.

Q: What happens after a whistleblower files a complaint?

Upon receiving a complaint, the Secretary of Labor shall complete an investigation within 30 days. The Secretary will notify the whistleblower and alleged violator of the investigation results. Within 90 days, unless the Secretary terminates the proceeding of the complaint based on a settlement with the alleged violator, the Secretary will provide relief to the whistleblower or deny the complaint. An order by the Secretary will be made on record and there will be an opportunity for a public hearing.

Q: Can I file in federal court?

The Atomic Energy Act was recently amended to permit employees to file claims in federal court if the DOL fails to issue its final decision within one year.

Q: What remedies are available to employees under the Energy Reorganization Act's whistleblower law?

  • Reinstatement
  • Back pay with interest
  • A complete “make whole” remedy (including restoration of seniority/sick leave, etc.)
  • Compensatory damages (for emotional distress and loss of professional reputation)
  • Attorneys’ fees and costs
  • “Affirmative Relief” (such as requiring a letter of apology and formal posting of the decision)
  • Exemplary damages are available under the Safe Drinking Water Act and Toxic Substances Control Act.

  • To view a major decision on damages in a nuclear case, see Hobby v. Georgia Power Co.

Q: Do other laws protect whistleblowers?

Many states have enacted laws to protect whistleblowers. Most of these laws have a longer statute of limitations and other benefits unavailable under federal law. If an employee is reporting fraud by a government contractor, these concerns may be covered under the False Claims Act. To report these concerns, please fill out our confidential legal intake form.

Q: How can I get help?

If you need additional help or want to contact an attorney, please fill out a confidential intake form. To learn more about how NWC assists whistleblowers, please visit our Find an Attorney page.

The New Whistleblower's Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What's Right and Protecting Yourself (Lyons Press, 2017) is the first-ever consumer's guide to whistleblowing. It contains clear and comprehensive rules that fully explain the how to effectively blow the whistle. It is very important that you review this resource in order to determine what laws may protect you and whether you need to take immediate action to protect your rights.

Please read the FAQ disclaimer.

The material in this FAQ may not reflect the most current legal developments. The content and interpretation of the law addressed herein is subject to revision. We disclaim all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all the contents of this website or in this FAQ. Before acting on any information or material in this web site, we strongly recommend you seek a qualified whistleblower attorney.

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