U.S. Nuclear Agency Needs Independent Probe, Markey Says

An independent investigation is needed of alleged lapses in the safety culture at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Representative Edward Markey said, citing worker concerns about a lack of management support.

Markey said NRC employees wrote him to say the agency failed to take appropriate steps to deal with safety issues at the Fort Calhoun plant operated by Omaha Public Power District, and DTE Energy Co.’s Fermi station on the shores of Lake Erie in southeast Michigan. Employees also told Markey that the NRC Office of Inspector General has ignored safety issues, he said.

“Every individual who contacted my office expressed concerns that they did not trust the NRC IG to resolve their concerns,” Markey said today in a letter to NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko. “Suggestions were made that the commission engage a firm such as Conger and Elsea or other organization to conduct an independent investigation.”

U.S. lawmakers and safety advocates are putting the NRC under scrutiny after Jaczko said May 21 that he is resigning as colleagues and the NRC’s watchdog criticize what they said was a bullying style and mistreatment of female employees. Jaczko has denied the allegation, saying he’s passionate about safety.

NRC is reviewing the Markey letter, Eliot Brenner, agency spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Calhoun Safety

Employees on the NRC’s Texas staff, writing anonymously, said in an April 24 letter to Markey that Troy Pruett, deputy director of the Division of Reactor Projects, rejected a recommendation to classify failures at Fort Calhoun Station as having “high safety significance,” saying his job would become more difficult.

The agency inspected Fort Calhoun, about 19 miles (31 kilometers) north of Omaha, after a June 2011 electrical breaker fire triggered a shutdown in the system that cools spent-fuel pools, according to an April 10 NRC statement. The plant was shut at the time by flooding along the Missouri River.

Markey said workers in the region for seven states near the Great Lakes, in a separate letter, said safety findings at the Fermi plant in 2010 were removed from the inspection report by middle management. Efforts to investigate the incident resulted in retaliatory action, Markey said in his Jaczko letter.

“If NRC managers do not believe the commission is committed to following the safety recommendations of its top technical staff, they may similarly feel empowered to reject the recommendations made by their inspectors, dismiss safety concerns and retaliate against those who are making them,” Markey said in his letter.

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