The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, March 08, 2002

NRC looks at sleeping inspector in Paducah
The visitor was observing a safety class, and the agency says it's not the same as having an operator at the controls.

By Joe Walker

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is withholding judgment on one of its visiting inspectors said to have fallen asleep Monday while observing a safety class at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

"Apparently he fell asleep, although we're still looking into it," said Jan Strasma, NRC Region 3 spokesman in Chicago. "It was in a class setting, and there were no safety consequences involved."

Strasma said the unidentified official was back working in Chicago after routine inspections at the plant last week and early this week. The incident happened while he was watching a basic radiation protection class. No disciplinary action was taken.

The NRC oversees nuclear facilities nationwide, including the Paducah plant, which enriches uranium for use in nuclear fuel. The inspector was one of two brought in from Chicago for routine observations. Two NRC resident inspectors have full-time offices at the plant.

Strasma said sleeping on the job can result in severe penalties or dismissal for plant employees, depending on the rules of a particular plant.

"Certainly it's something that we, as an agency, would be concerned about," he said. "It's important that reactor operators actually at the controls of the plant be alert and not be asleep or have distractions, because they have an important safety function."

But, he added, "I don't think I can draw a direct parallel to an NRC inspector's sitting in a classroom and falling asleep because that's not a direct safety function."

John Volpe, manager of the Kentucky Radiation Health and Toxic Agents Branch, said he was awaiting details from the commission before drawing conclusions.

"It's the NRC's responsibility to oversee those facilities, and you should take it seriously, not that the person didn't," he said. "There may be a good explanation."

Volpe said a state inspector once had to be treated for narcolepsy, a condition characterized by brief periods of deep sleep, but he was uncertain whether that was a factor in the Paducah incident.

"I think NRC's inspectors at Paducah have done a good job inspecting the facility on a routine basis," he said. "I was surprised when I heard about this."