Commissioner Greg Jaczko, a top official at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), recently gave an important speech to the government employees charged with enforcing NRC regulations at our nation's nuclear power plants. Unfortunately, the speech took place in the remote Eastern Shores of Maryland on October 30th, so it likely got lost in the media’s Halloween coverage.
I’ll be honest. I especially enjoyed his speech because he echoed points that POGO has been making all along (most recently in a letter sent to NRC Chairman Dale Klein last week). Nonetheless, Jaczko’s speech needs to be shouted from the mountain tops. First, Jaczko pointed out that the recent instances of sleeping security officers across the country "demonstrate the importance of broadening [the] safety culture to include security issues."
He also announced his intention to change the handling of safety and security allegations in three ways:
1. Do not refer allegations of weakened security to the utility company which runs the plants over the objection of the whistleblower. It is pathetic that Jaczko even has to say this, but the recent Peach Bottom incident proves that he does.
2. Refer fewer allegations to the utility companies for investigation in the first place. Currently, forty percent of whistleblower allegations sent to the NRC are turned over to the utilities, which means the industry is investigating itself. From POGO's experience, self-policing is a fine way to make sure the problem is at best minimized, yet it more likely ensures that problems are completely ignored, so any effort to reverse this pattern is a good thing.
3. Even if the NRC, the utility company, and the whistleblower all agree that the utility should investigate, the NRC should remain actively involved in the investigation.
These recommendations all sound so common sense that those not familiar with nuclear regulatory policy might yawn and ask, "What's the big deal?" However, nuclear power plant security has been so controlled by industry that even these small steps in the right direction, if implemented, will make a big difference.
- Danielle Brian