Renews call for independent investigation into charges of retaliation, safety concerns
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Edward J. Markey (D- Mass.) today released a new unsolicited letter and other accounts indicating a long-standing problem with the safety culture at some NRC regional offices that allegedly has resulted in retaliation for the disclosure of safety concerns. He also revealed the troubling disclosure that NRC staff whistleblowers who have contacted his office lack confidence in NRC’s Inspector General (IG) to assist in the investigation and resolution of their claims. Rep. Markey described the new claims, which include whistleblowers employed in more than one of NRC’s Regional offices, and called for an independent investigation into NRC’s safety culture in a letter sent today to the NRC.
Rep. Markey’s letter outlines a series of troubling new allegations that have come to light in the wake of the Congressman’s inquiry last month regarding allegations that the current Deputy Division Director of the Division of Reactor Projects in NRC’s Texas-based Region IV office has actively retaliated against individuals who bring safety concerns to his attention. These latest allegations made by whistleblowers include disturbing accounts of interference with and alteration of safety findings at the Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Station, San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and Fermi Nuclear Power Plant, and mistreatment of technical staff by Region IV management with verbal berating, workplace humiliation, and lowered performance ratings after years of outstanding reviews. A recent resignation of a member of NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards due reportedly to inappropriate nuclear industry influence over that body, and a 3-2 NRC vote to overrule Chairman Jaczko’s proposal to include the troubled Fort Calhoun Station on the agenda of a Commission meeting also raise concerns.
Additionally, the individuals who contacted Rep. Markey’s office all indicated a lack of trust in the NRC Inspector General (IG) to conduct fair and thorough investigations of allegations due to a perceived bias on the part of the IG towards NRC’s management views.
“These latest allegations paint a disturbing picture of systemic powerlessness and stigma for NRC staff who simply want to tell the truth 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 safety responsibilities, 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.”
A copy of the letter to the NRC can be found HERE.
Specific new developments and allegations documented in Rep. Markey’s letter include:
- Commissioners Ostendorff, Svinicki and Apostolakis rejected to include events at Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Station in Nebraska on the agenda for NRC’s June 1, 2012 Agency Action Review Meeting, despite the facility’s assignment in 2011 of the highest significance “red” safety finding. Part of the purpose of this meeting is to review the agency’s actions related to the nuclear power plants with significant performance problems.
- When Region IV staff recommended in a written report that NRC assemble an “Augmented Inspection Team” (the second most aggressive means of investigating safety problems) to inspect the 2011 fire at the Fort Calhoun Station, Region IV management altered the report to instead recommend a less-intense, paperwork-focused “Special Inspection Team” without the concurrence of the NRC staff who had recommended the more aggressive approach.
- In 2009-2010, Region IV management allegedly attempted to improperly influence a safety issue when an NRC staff member recommended the issuance of a “yellow” safety finding at the Fort Calhoun Station due to inadequate flood protection measures, arguing that “flood findings can’t be yellow” and assigned a new NRC analyst to perform an in depth independent review of the analysis.
- Staff was allegedly retaliated against after raising a safety concern about the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station 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 2010 were allegedly subsequently removed from the inspection report by Region III middle management, followed by retaliation against the individual.
The NRC's response to Rep. Markey's letter can be found HERE.