“The way we hold corporations accountable so that we can prevent this from happening again is with monetary value; that’s the only thing that gets corporations attention in today’s environment. Is that a little bit sad? Yes, it is, but that’s the way the world turns now, and so that’s what we want to do: hold them accountable through a jury verdict in Pope County,” Oliver said.
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — It’s been three years since an accident at Arkansas Nuclear One claimed the life of Wade Walters and injured more than a half dozen others. The plant is now under strict oversight procedures, and the families of those employees impacted on the job say they’re fighting not only grief but for accountability to improve the community where Arkansas Nuclear One is forever on the horizon.
March 31, 2013, was the day Susan Allen lost her son, and for three years she’s been grappling with grief.
“I still get to be his mom. And I’m still taking care of him. I’m still fighting for him,” she said. “Everybody says time heals, but not when you’ve lost a child.”
Wade Walters, 24, was killed when an overhead crane at Entergy’s Arkansas Nuclear One collapsed under the weight of more than a million pounds.
“This really hit home for a lot of people. And I don’t know if it ever would have come to light if it hadn’t been for our family saying we’re not letting this go – we’re holding someone accountable,” Allen said. “It would be hard for you to find someone in this area who didn’t know someone who worked there or was somehow connected to the plant. It’s right in our backyard.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, cited four companies involved with serious violations of safety regulations. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission placed the plant under strict review, identifying it as a Column 4 plant. It’s just one of three in the country with that designation.
“We want to keep the attention on it,” Allen said. “We want the changes made. We want the Nuclear Regulatory Commission out there. We want the community to be involved. If they’re not going to the NRC meetings they need to.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s next scheduled public meeting is April 6, where the community will learn more about the continued oversight due to safety concerns.
Wade’s family, along with others injured in the accident, filed suit against the companies involved. Three years later, they’re still waiting for resolution, in the first leg of the legal battle. They’re hoping for a worker compensation judge’s decision by June.
“This absolutely never should have happened. Wade Walters should not have lost his life. This was absolutely preventable,” attorney Sach Oliver said. “If these families and our clients weren’t willing to go the distance in this case, what would keep nuclear plants across the country and this one from simply doing this again next year?”
Entergy’s Nuclear communications manager Michael Bowling said in a written statement, “We cannot comment on pending litigation, but we can say the contractor’s lift failure on March 31, 2013 was a tragedy for the entire Entergy family. Since that incident and through the subsequent regulatory processes, Entergy has paired with industry experts and regulators to gain a thorough understanding of causes and contributors, and to ensure proper implementation of corrective actions to resolve them.”
Bowling went on to write, “For instance, we have greatly increased the oversight of our contractors, and all our actions are reviewed by Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors. The manner in which the people of ANO responded to the lift assembly failure has undergone a tremendous level of oversight, and rightly so. It is important to note that during a public meeting in May 2013, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated that ANO’s safety systems responded as designed, and Entergy took appropriate actions to recover plant equipment. Entergy has taken action across our company to ensure our fleet of plants are aligned on our safety protocols, and we have shared our work with the U.S. nuclear industry to benefit our nuclear peers.”
According to Oliver, accountability from the public to corporations can usually only come through the lawsuit process and proving to a court the value of what was lost.
“Overcome Bad with Good”
Wade was a big brother who was fiercely protective of his little sister. And his family sees the fight in court as a way to honor that trait by protecting fellow workers from the same tragic fate.
“Maybe by going through this we can help prevent it happening to someone else’s child, or brother or sister or husband,” said Keith Walters, Wade’s father.
And in that same vein of change through tragedy, Wade’s family has looked for ways to overcome pain and grief with good.
“We’ve had some great things happen. People tipping the cart guys at Walmart and giving them a Wade card,” Allen said. “Wade lived life big, and that’s the theme for this year’s fishing tournament. His legacy was cut short at 24, but we want to see it live on and go further.”
These Random Act of Kindness cards have floated across the United States, and an annual fishing tournament in Wade’s memory sees hundreds turn out every year to cast a line to benefit his hometown community.
“I hope he can see, I do. I hope he can see the good things,” Allen said.
Through all of this, the hard and the happy, Wade Walters hasn’t been there to witness it. But his family members feel like he might have been.
“I hope he can know we as a family are fighting for him,” Allen said. “We’re living life, this thing is not going to kill us. You know, one of the things about Wade, he was stubborn and hard-headed. We would butt heads on occasion, but we were tight. And I think some of that he got from me. I’m not going to let this go. I’ll fight for however long it takes.”
And these parents who had to say goodbye too early, say they won’t stop looking forward or fighting back against bad with good.
“I would say to Wade that I’ll see you soon,” Walters said. “That’s all I’ve got.”
“I hope you’re proud of the changes we’re trying to make in the community because of your loss,” Allen said. “We’re going to try and do some good for you babe, and we love you.”
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