Friday, February 20, 2015

NRC Office of Investigations 2014 Annual Report: From Cases to Culture

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Investigations (OI) recently released its FY2014 annual report.*  The OI investigates alleged wrongdoing by entities regulated by the NRC; OI’s focus is on willful and deliberate actions that violate NRC regulations and/or criminal statutes.

The OI report showed a definite downward trend in the number of new cases being opened, overall a 41% drop between FY2010 and FY2014.  Only one of the four categories of cases increased over that time frame, viz., material false statements, which held fairly steady through FY2013 but popped in FY2014 to 67% over FY2010.  We find this disappointing because false statements can often be linked to cultural attributes that prioritize getting a job done over compliance with regulations.

The report includes a chapter on “Significant Investigations.”  There were eight such investigations, four involving nuclear power plants.  We have previously reported on two of these cases, the Indian Point chemistry manager who falsified test results (see our May 12, 2014 post) and the Palisades security manager who assigned a supervisor to an armed responder role for which he was not currently qualified (see our July 24, 2014 post).  The other two, summarized below, occurred at River Bend and Salem.

In the River Bend case, a security officer deliberately falsified training records by taking a plant access authorization test for her son, a contractor employed by a plant supplier.  Similar to the Palisades case, Entergy elected alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and ended up with multiple corrective actions including revising its security procedures, establishing new controls for security-related information (SRI), evaluating SRI storage, developing a document highlighting the special responsibilities of nuclear security personnel, establishing decorum protocols for certain security posts, preparing and delivering a lessons learned presentation, conducting an independent third party safety culture (SC) assessment of the River Bend security organization [emphasis added], and delivering refresher training on 10 CFR 50.5 and 50.9.  Most of these requirements are to be implemented fleet-wide, i.e., at all Entergy nuclear plants, not just River Bend.**

The Salem case involved a senior reactor operator who used an illegal substance then performed duties while under its influence.  The NRC issued a Level III Notice of Violation (NOV) to the operator.  The operator’s NRC license was terminated at PSE&G’s request.***  PSE&G was not cited in this case.

Our Perspective

You probably noticed that three of the “significant” cases involved Entergy plants.  Entergy is no stranger to issues with a possible cultural component including the following:****

In 2013, Arkansas Nuclear One received a NOV after an employee deliberately falsified documents regarding the performance of Emergency Preparedness drills and communication surveillances.

In 2012, Fitzpatrick received a Confirmatory Order (Order) after the NRC discovered violations, the majority of which were willful, related to adherence to site radiation protection procedures.

During 2006-08, Indian Point received two Orders and three NOVs for its failure to install backup power for the plant’s emergency notification system.

In 2012, Palisades received an Order after an operator left the control room without permission and without performing a turnover to another operator.  Entergy went to ADR and ended up with multiple corrective actions, some fleet-wide.  We have posted many times about the long-running SC saga at Palisades—click on the Palisades label to pull up the posts. 

In 2005, Pilgrim received a NOV after an on-duty supervisor was observed sleeping in the control room.  In 2013, Pilgrim received a NOV for submitting false medical documentation on operators.

In 2012, River Bend received a NOV for operators in the control room accessing the internet in violation of an Entergy procedure. 

These cases involve behavior that was (at least in hindsight) obviously wrong.  It’s not a stretch to suggest that a weak SC may have been a contributing factor.  So has Entergy received the message?  You be the judge.

“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” ― George Carlin (1937–2008)


*  NRC Office of Investigations, “2014 OI Annual Report,” NUREG-1830, Vol. 11 (Feb. 2015).  ADAMS ML15034A064.

**  M.L. Dapas (NRC) to E.W. Olson (River Bend), “Confirmatory Order, Notice of Violation, and Civil Penalty – NRC Special Inspection Report 05000458/2014407 and NRC Investigation Report 4-2012-022- River Bend Station” (Dec. 3, 2014).  ADAMS ML14339A167.

***  W.M. Dean (NRC) to G. Meekins (an individual), “Notice of Violation (Investigation Report No. 1-2014-013)” (July 9, 2014).  ADAMS ML14190A471.

****  All Entergy-related NRC enforcement actions were obtained from the NRC website.

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