I work as an engineer at the Thermo Hydraulics Analysis Department of a nuclear power plant. During an analysis of the power plant, I receive a phone call from an engineer at the Eight Mile Road Nuclear Power Plant and he expresses his concern over the current design of the reactor in relation to the pressure valves and indicators.
He describes an incident at a plant in Toledo whereby a pressure relief valve opened to relieve steam and decrease pressure due to over pressurization, but failed to close despite the fact that the indicator stated successful closure. The operator at the plant stopped high-pressure injection owing to an apparent recovery in the system.
The plant was in a two-phase state, thus leading to a lack of capacity to accommodate termination of high-pressure injection. During a twenty to thirty-minute non-injection flow period, the plant recorded significant loss in fluid inventory.
Information relayed in the phone call about the design flow of the nuclear reactor made me uneasy, and thus I wrote a memo to my boss describing the situation and the need to inform other power plants of the possible design flaws. He promised to present the memo to her boss to address the concerns.
Two weeks later, after asking my boss on the progress of the memo, he informs me that her boss saw no need to forward the information to other plants due to the unofficial nature of the information.
He also states that if I desired to pursue the matter, I should obtain official documentation from my colleague stating the facts of the entire incident. I inform the engineer at the Eight Mile Road power plant of the development and request official documentation and he agrees on condition that I provide a two-month window within which he can send the documentation.
In this scenario, my decision is likely to affect several stakeholders. The stakeholders include me, the plant’s employees, the plant’s management, the company, members of the public living within the plant’s vicinity, the environment, colleagues in other power plants, and the nuclear industry.
For instance, the decision may lead to the loss or maintenance of my job, have implications on the safety of employees, indicate the management’s competence in dealing with issues, and affect the company’s expenditure and profits available for stockholders.
My duties play an important role in the consideration of alternatives. I have a duty to myself as an engineer to ensure that I perform my duties to the best of my abilities. The preamble of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Code of Ethics for Engineers, 1979, states that as an engineer, I should strive to increase competence and use my knowledge and skill adequately.
I also have a duty to the employees to ensure that reactors at the plant are safe for use through proper analysis and recommendations. It is my duty to the plant’s management to ensure that I notify them of possible faults in the plant’s machinery and give appropriate recommendations as per Section 1(C) of the NSPE Code of Ethics.
The code, under Section 2, states that it is my duty as an engineer to ensure, “proper regard for the safety, health and welfare of the public” (NSPE Para.2). I have a duty to the company to ensure that I safeguard its economic interests and follow the company regulations including avoiding unnecessary lawsuits that may affect the company’s integrity.
My duty to the stockholders involves making decisions that support the making of profits and safeguard their financial interests in the company. Due to the seriousness of the situation’s impact on the operations at the plant, I found it necessary to consult an engineer in my department regarding the appropriate course of action.
Martin (34) expresses the opinion that I should apply a solution that works in the best interest of everyone involved. The right course of action is one that exhibits objectivity and complies with the company’s regulations and code of conduct (Robinson et al. 52). I should convince my friend to spare a bit of time to prepare the official documentation or strive to change the boss’s decision by stating the severity of the situation.
Generation of alternatives and analysis
According to the situation, I have several alternatives to work with. First, I may try to convince my boss to reconsider his decision and forward the information to other plants warning them of imminent occurrence of accidents in case the reactors are faulty.
Secondly, I may try convincing my colleague at the Eight Mile Rod plant to prepare the documentation and send the same immediately as a safety concern to prevent avoidable accidents. My third alternative involves waiting for the colleague to send the letter in two months for further action.
Lastly, I may choose to visit the plant at Toledo and obtain a full report personally, in fulfillment of Section 5 of NSPE code of ethics, which requires opinions founded on adequate knowledge and honest conviction. The first option supports the concept of public safety and safety of employees and would effectively avert accidents in other plants in advance.
However, the option requires the boss to act unethically by going against company regulations and creating possible liabilities from lawsuits if the information is false. The second option complies with the company’s regulations and it would effectively avert accidents in other plants, but it is dependent on the response of the colleague at the Eight Mile Road power plant.
The third option is compliant with the company’s regulations and convenient for the engineer at the Eight Mile Road plant. However, the time delay may have serious implications on the health and safety of workers in other plants and populations living near the plant.
The last option complies with all regulations and it is convenient for the colleague at the Eight Mile Road plant and the company. However, it would require me to sacrifice my time and travel to Toledo and create a report on the alleged incident.
Solution and implementation
The last option is the most appropriate in this situation. The solution caters for timely reporting and solution generation. Visiting the Toledo plant would allow me access to first-hand information and provide the opportunity to inspect the faulty reactor.
This move would enable me to write a report based on facts as well as proper analysis with appropriate recommendations for my plant and others using reactors with the same design. In case the information happens to be a rumor, the company would save face and avoid any changes in operations at the plant.
Section 15 of the NSPE Code of Ethics provides that engineers should “cooperate in extending the effectiveness of the profession by exchanging information and experience with other engineers” (NSPE Para.4). This aspect means that visiting the Toledo plant would be ethical and thus would not jeopardize the integrity of any other engineer involved in the process.
The solution requires me to visit the Toledo plant personally, collect information on the incident, conduct inspection of the faulty reactor, and create a detailed report of the overall situation including possible solutions. I would then have to present the same to my boss, who would present the same to his boss, thus giving him a reason to act and forward information to other plants.
Martin, Mike. Ethics in Engineering, New York: McGraw Hill, 2006. Print.
NSPE 2007, Code of Ethics for Engineers. PDF File. Web.
Robinson, Simon, Ross Dixon, Christopher Preece, and Kris Moodley. Engineering, Business and Professional Ethics, London: Routledge, 2007. Print.