Hartford Courant

Scandalous Inaction By The NRC


Faced with a staff recommendation to take accelerated enforcement action against Northeast Utilities for firing whistle blowers, what did the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission do?

Nothing Absolutely nothing

The idea of punishing the utility for fining employees who had raised safety issues was dis-missed sometime between the NRC staff decision in December 1997 and last June, when the agency authorized NU to restart Millstone 3 a reactor shut down partly because of safety concerns. The commission disposed of its staff recommendation without explanation and with no written record, according to a report made public last week by the agencyis independent Office of Inspector General

Unless the NRC can show otherwise, its in-action is a scandal.

Nuclear industry workers brave enough to voice their concerns about the safety of generat-ing plants have been put on notice that the feder-al agency empowered to protect them might look the other way if employers fire them for speaking out.

The public has a right to wonder whether its interests, too, are being protected. Safe operation of the nationis commercial nuclear plants is the NRCs responsibility.

Northeast Utilities had been found to harass employees who blew the whistle on safety problems at its nuclear power generating plants. On Dec. 2, 1997, an NRC staff panel decided that the utility should be punished based on evidence that a former NU vice president had discrimi-nated against two and possibly three employees who had raised safety issues.

Federal law prohibits harassment of and dis-crimination against nuclear plant workers because their willingness to speak out about prob-lems is integral to safe plant operations. Northeast Utilities could have been subject to a fine of $100,000 or more.

But the NRCs Office of Enforcement never followed through.

NRC Chairwoman Shirley Jackson, who had promised stricter oversight, is using the time-honored dodge, asking for more information from the staff.