Rep. Markey calls for investigation into claims of retaliation at NRC

Congressman Edward J. Markey (D- Mass.) on June 4 sent a letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about allegations of retaliation against the disclosure of safety concerns and a lack of confidence in the NRC’s Inspector General (IG)’s ability to investigate and resolve the claims.

The latest claims say that the current Deputy Division Directors of the Division of Reactor Projects in NRC’s Texas-based Region IV and the Illinois-based Region III offices have actively retaliated against individuals who bring safety concerns to their attention, including interfering with and altering safety findings at the Fort Calhoun, San Onofre and Fermi nuclear power plants. The technical staff also alleges that they were verbally berated, humiliated at work and had performance ratings lowered after years of outstanding reviews. Markey said in his letter that the recent resignation of a member of NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards reportedly due to inappropriate nuclear industry influence over that committee, and a 3-2 NRC vote to overrule Jaczko’s proposal to include Fort Calhoun on the agenda of an NRC meeting raised concerns.

Rep. Markey originally received a letter dated Aprl 24 from the Region IV staff accusing the office’s manager, Tony Pruett, of berating and intimidating inspectors for bringing up safety concerns stemming from a June 2011 fire at the Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska that qualified as a “red” event, or one of high safety significance. In May, Markey sent a letter to NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko calling for an independent investigation into the matter.

Additionally, the individuals who contacted Rep. Markey’s office all indicated a lack of trust in the NRC IG to conduct fair and thorough investigations of allegations due to a perceived bias on the part of the IGtowards NRC’s management views.

Commissioners Ostendorff, Svinicki and Apostolakis rejected to include events at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station in Nebraska on the agenda for NRC’s June 1, 2012 Agency Action Review Meeting, despite the plant receiving a “red” safety finding. Part of the purpose of the meeting is to review the agency’s actions related to the nuclear power plants with significantperformance problems.

At the San Onofre plant in California, staff was allegedly retaliated against after raising a safety concern about the plant that was subsequently validated.  The safety concern was first validated by NRC in 2006, but the licensee allegedly failed to correct the problem and took steps to retaliate against the employee.  Even after the staff person elevated the concern to the Region IV office in 2010 and in 2011, the NRC revalidated the safety concern, neither the NRC nor NRC IG have taken steps to remedy the claims of retaliation.

An inspector from NRC’s Region III office reported a similar concern in which safety inspection findings identified during an engineering inspection performed at the Fermi Nuclear Power Plant in Michigan in 2010 were allegedly subsequently removed from the inspection report by Region III middle management, followed by retaliation against the individual.

“These latest allegations paint a disturbing picture of systemic powerlessness and stigma for NRC staff who simply want to tell thetruth about safety concerns at America’s nuclear power plants,” said Rep. Markey, senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.  “When NRC staffers step forward to blow the whistle on actions by the agency that fail to live up to its nuclear safetyresponsibilities, we need to take their concerns seriously and make sure they are not subjected to harassment to retaliation for doing their duty. The best way to determine if these allegations are true and how best to address them is to begin an independent, credible investigation of NRC’s safety culture, including its Advisory Committee.”

To read Markey’s letter, including additional allegations, click here.

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