This week's document: Memo: NRC Oversight of Reactor Coolant Pump Seals at Oconee Nuclear Station
Document agency: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Inspector General
Document date: July 29, 2010
Every Friday, POGO will strive to make one document available that we or others have obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), especially documents that have not previously been posted online. Some of these documents will be more important than others, some may only be of historical interest— although relevance is in the eye of the beholder. POGO is doing this to highlight the importance of open government and FOIA throughout the year.
By ANDRE FRANCISCO
The Fukushima disaster has recently put a lot of pressure on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), but now critics are also worried about the competency of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the NRC. The NRC OIG was created by Congress to play a key role in overseeing the NRC.
In an extensive investigation into the OIG at the NRC, Tom Zeller Jr. writes in The Huffington Post about a growing feeling in the nuclear safety community that the IG's office is broken.
Today's FOIA Friday is a previously unreleased memo to Joseph A. McMillan, the Assistant Inspector General for Investigations at the NRC, about the NRC’s oversight into the seals on reactor coolant pumps at the Oconee Nuclear Station near Seneca, South Carolina.
The document states that an investigation was launched after an allegation was made that a senior manager prevented an NRC employee from pursuing an issue related to the modification of seals for reactor coolant pumps (nuclear reactors have to be continuously cooled to prevent damage to the reactor and a potential release of radiation). The document says that these seals were looked at in NRC inspections in 2004 and 2005 and determined to be of “very low safety significance,” so the investigation was closed with little explanation.
George Mulley, a retired NRC OIG investigator, called this memo on Oconee Nuclear Station “so confusing, I can’t understand how it was resolved.” He added that he was “surprised” when he found out the case had been closed. Mulley had a “highly-decorated, 25-year career with the inspector general's division” according to the Huffington Post article by Zeller.
The Oconee memo has a case number of “08-41,” which means it was the 41st case the OIG dealt with in 2008, which would put the initiation of the complaint at somewhere around June 2008, according to Mulley. This means that 2004 and 2005 NRC inspections were cited as a reason to close a 2008 complaint to the NRC OIG.
Mulley, who has seen this memo, said the OIG investigation “report did not answer the questions about the allegation” made to the OIG in 2008. The NRC OIG may not have undertaken a thorough investigation into the allegation and its significance, he said. The findings of the inspection made years earlier may have been an inadequate basis for closing the investigation. Mulley also said he knew the individual who raised the concern, saying the individual is sharp and “doesn’t fly off the handle” about small things. The memo describes the issue “to be of very low safety significance.”
POGO previously released another document from the IG’s office at the NRC about an investigation into the model that is used to assess the threat of airplanes to nuclear reactors. Experts suggested the model was inadequate and needed to be updated to properly prepare nuclear reactors to the possibility of being hit with an airplane. That case was closed by the OIG and no report was issued, which perplexed NRC investigators and outside experts.
In July, POGO also released an 11-page close-out memo on NRC inspections at Byron Nuclear Station in Illinois by the NRC OIG that did not reflect what Mulley found in his investigation of the matter when he still worked for the OIG. The Huffington Post story also raises concerns about the quality of investigation into the NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko and his role in the Yucca Mountain repository license, citing a letter sent from Mulley’s lawyer to Congress.
Similar questions are being raised about the case that today’s FOIA Friday document covers. POGO has sent a FOIA request for the supporting documents associated with this memo.
Andre Francisco is a POGO Associate.