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Markey challenges NRC on nuclear safety culture violations within the agency itself

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA)U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), Ranking Democrat on U.S. House committees of jurisdiction over the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), has been leading an investigation into alleged problems with the safety culture at some NRC regional offices -- including Region IV based in Texas, and Region III based in Illinois -- that have resulted in retaliation against NRC staff who disclose safety concerns. Markey also highlighted allegations that the nuclear power industry has inappropriately pressured NRC's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS).

Rep. Markey was tipped off on April 24, 2012 by anonymous NRC Region IV whistleblowers about harassment, intimidation, and retaliation which, they alleged, had been perpetrated by NRC Region IV senior manager Troy Pruett, against NRC staff who raised safety concerns regarding the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska. Fort Calhoun suffered a serious fire during historic floods on the Missouri River in summer 2011, which inundated the entire nuclear power plant, and came within just a few feet of overtopping critical flood protection barriers at the facility. Pruett allegedly pressured NRC safety inspectors under his supervison to lower their proposed "Red finding" (NRC's worst safety violation designation) to a "Green finding" (indicating "low safety significance"), in order to make his own job easier as head of the the Ft. Calhoun restart regulatory oversight team. Evidence also has surfaced that Pruett resisted needed safety upgrades that proved critical in barely averting disaster during the flooding.

NRC Region IV also oversees the problem-plagued San Onofre nuclear power plant in southern California, as well as the South Texas Project nuclear power plant, which just suffered a serious transformer fire.

Rep. Markey's office has charged the NRC with dragging its feet on -- or outright undermining -- an adequateinvestigation into the allegations of safety culture violations. He cites an internal NRC survey, responded to by 3,000 of NRC's 4,000 employees, which found a majority of the staff felt the agency's differing professional opinion program, for dissent within the system, was ineffective. Markey also chided the NRC Commission itself for slow walking, or even actively blocking, post-Fukushima safety upgrades recommend by the agency's safety staff. He warned that such behavior by the NRC Commission could well embolden recalcitrant NRC senior managers to double down on retaliating against NRC safety staff for aggressively striving to protect pubic health, safety, and the environment against radiological risks. Rep. Markey's office has created a timeline, providing links to his correspondence with NRC's Chairman on these matters.