updated 10/30/2007 6:28:24 PM ET 2007-10-30T22:28:24

A federal jury convicted a former nuclear plant worker Tuesday of concealing the worst corrosion ever found at a U.S. reactor. A second defendant was acquitted.

David Geisen, the Davis-Besse plant’s former engineering design manager, was accused of misleading regulators into believing the plant along Lake Erie was safe. He faces as much as five years in prison.

Private contractor Rodney Cook was acquitted by the same federal jury.

Prosecutors said the men lied in fall 2001 so the plant could delay a shutdown for a safety inspection. Months later, inspectors found an acid leak that had nearly eaten through the reactor’s 6-inch-thick steel cap. It’s not clear how close the plant was to an accident.

Federal prosecutor Tom Ballantine said Geisen and Cook told regulators that an area of the plant the NRC was concerned about had been inspected and that there was no reason to worry. But the inspections weren’t completed, and the pair knew it, Ballantine said.

Attorneys for Geisen and Cook said the men never were in a position to know how bad the leak had become at the plant, about 30 miles east of Toledo. They added that their clients had nothing to gain by delaying a shutdown.

Richard Hibey, Geisen’s attorney, said he was unsure why the jury split the verdict. Cook’s attorney, John Conroy, said he was pleased his client was cleared but thought Geisen should have been acquitted, too.

U.S. Justice Department attorney Richard Poole said he could not comment.

Record fines for hidden damage
The plant’s operator, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., paid a record $28 million in fines a year ago while avoiding federal charges. It also spent $600 million making repairs and buying replacement power while the plant was closed from early 2002 until 2004.

None of the company’s senior leaders was charged in the investigation.

Another former Davis-Besse employee, engineer Andrew Siemaszko, is to go on trial within the next month. Design engineer Prasoon Goyal entered into an agreement with the government.

After the discovery of the leak, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission beefed up inspections and training and began requiring detailed records of its discussions with plant operators.

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