Congressman Seeks Answers Regarding NRC’s Culture of Retaliation

May 11, 2012 - Comments Off

Congressman Edward Markey, D-Mass., sent a letter on Wednesday to Greg Jaczko, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”), urging him to investigate allegations of retaliation against NRC staff who report nuclear safety violations.  The letter comes after Congressman Markey, senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and an advocate for increased nuclear safety, received a letter on April 24, 2012 from the staff of the NRC’s Texas-based Region IV offices.  That letter brought to his attention the conduct of Troy Pruett, the Deputy Division Director of Division Reactor Projects in Region IV.  Among other things, the letter accused Mr. Pruett of:

  • Openly criticizing and denigrating professional staff who brought forward inspection findings that he did not agree with;
  • Berating and intimidating inspectors for raising issues;
  • Altering or removing safety findings from inspection reports prior to their release;
  • Downgrading the performance appraisals for staff members who identified regulatoiry violations with which he disagreed; and
  • Disagreeing with the staff’s recommendation to issue the most serious ‘red’ safety finding to the licensee of the Fort Calhoun Station because “it would result in a ‘political environment’ that would make his job, as the chairman of the Fort Calhoun Station restart committee, more difficult,” and subsequently mischaracterizing the technical staff’s views on the matter to NRC headquarters personnel.

The letter further states that although Mr. Pruett’s actions have allegedly been reported to NRC’s Senior Regional management, no meaningful steps have been taken to improve his behavior.

Offering a possible explanation for Mr. Pruett’s behavior, Congressman Markey points out that item SAF29 in the NRC’s Regional Operations Plan apparently awards Senior Executive Service bonuses “in a manner that scales inversely with the number of enforcement actions that are challenged and overturned by licensees.  In other words, employees are rewarded not for undertaking strong nuclear safety oversight and enforcement measures, but for not doing so.”

In a statement released on his website Wednesday, Rep. Markey stated that “Too often those who report serious safety violations end up risking their jobs, and unfortunately in this case, possibly the well-being of Americans living near nuclear power plants.” The Congressman continued, “If these allegations prove to be true, it will be an appalling indictment of a culture of open disregard for safety recommendations of NRC’s technical staff and a disempowerment of staff to come forward when safety issues arise.  NRC needs to immediately engage an independent investigation of this situation and ensure that remedies are being implemented if these allegations are proven true.”

David J. Marshall, a partner and nuclear whistleblower attorney at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks, noted that “Allegations of retaliation against staff for raising safety concerns, if true, make it harder for employees of NRC licensees in the private sector to blow the whistle on nuclear-safety issues.”  Mr. Marshall continued, “Employees in the public and private sectors have a number of protections against retaliation, such as under the whistleblower protection provisions of the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Energy Reorganization Act.”

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