Nrc Assailed Over Substance Abuse At Plants

Posted: June 12, 1987

WASHINGTON — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is doing little to stop widespread abuse of alcohol and drugs at nuclear power plants, creating "a significant problem affecting the safety" of plants across the country, a senior NRC security inspector told a House subcommittee yesterday.

"The NRC, for its part, has rarely investigated allegations of drug and alcohol problems," said James A.F. Kelly, a senior security inspector in the NRC regional office in Dallas.

Instead, the NRC has left the investigations to the utilities that own the nuclear plants, Kelly told the House Interior Committee's general oversight and investigations subcommittee. For the most part, "the utilities are not up to the task," he said.

Over the last five years, the NRC has received reports of alcohol or drug abuse at 61 nuclear plants, including Peach Bottom, Limerick and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and Hope Creek and Oyster Creek in New Jersey. However, Kelly and members of the subcommittee expressed concern that most incidents of abuse were not reported.

Kelly was among several witnesses before the subcommittee, which began what its chairman described as a series of oversight hearings into whether the NRC was adequately regulating the nuclear industry.

The all-day hearing - which lasted twice as long as anticipated - touched on several aspects of the NRC's performance, including additional allegations against Commissioner Thomas M. Roberts, who has been accused of leaking NRC investigative documents to a Louisiana utility.

"I am concerned that the NRC may not be maintaining an arms-length regulatory posture with the commercial nuclear power industry," said Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D., Conn.), the subcommittee chairman. "I am concerned that the NRC may have, in some critical areas, abdicated its role as regulator."

All five members of the commission, including Roberts, appeared before the subcommittee. As he has in the past, Roberts denied that he leaked a confidential memorandum about problems at the Waterford nuclear plant near New Orleans to the plant's operator, Middle South Utilities.

Gejdenson is one of several members of Congress who have called for Roberts to resign because of the allegations, which are under investigation by the Justice Department.

Kelly, the security inspector, told the subcommittee that drug and alcohol abuse involves "a small but significant percentage of employees who have access to the power reactors."

He said that he has encountered "many examples" of drug and alcohol abuse at nuclear plants, and he said the situation at one plant, the Cooper nuclear plant in Nebraska, was particularly troublesome. He said that beginning in 1985, he found a series of allegations about abuses at the plant.

The allegations included smoking marijuana by two security officials; a security guard being found "unconscious, drugged or drunk" in a security room, and a licensed operator reporting to work drunk.

He said he was forced to turn the investigation over to the utility itself, the Nebraska Public Power District, because the NRC does not have "regulatory standards applicable to alcohol and drug problems." The agency has voluntary guidelines, but no rules that the utilities must follow.

Kelly said that he turned his records over to the utility's district investigator but that the investigator was later arrested for possession of drugs and being under the influence of drugs. The investigator pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in the state courts, Kelly said, adding that the utility tried to keep the matter hidden from the NRC.

He also noted that at the Fort St. Vrain plant in Colorado, the only commercial plant using bomb-grade material in its reactor, marijuana was allegedly being smoked on site and security guards were allegedly having sex while on duty, "making it difficult for them to be attentive to their security responsibilities."

The NRC decided not to investigate the allegations, and referred the charges to the plant manager and vice president for nuclear power, both of whom were later indicted and convicted for taking kickbacks, Kelly said.

"If the NRC can shut down a nuclear power plant because employees were sleeping on the job, how can it justify failing to investigate multiple reports of drug and alcohol abuse?" asked Gejdenson. "This inconsistency in approach hardly contributes to the credibiltiy of the NRC."

The NRC shut down the Peach Bottom plant in Delta, Pa., on March 31 after operators were found sleeping on the job. The plant may be idle for as much as a year, according to the NRC's regional administrator.

Further allegations against Roberts yesterday were that he may have improperly tried to influence a conflict-of-interest probe at the Tennessee Valley Authority by the Office of Government Ethics and that he discussed a Justice Department investigation of another utility with an attorney for the utility, American Electric Power, owner of the D.C. Cook nuclear plant in Michigan.

Roberts denied any wrongdoing, saying that although he discussed the TVA investigation with David Martin, director of the Office of Government Ethics, last year, he was in no position to influence the probe into whether TVA's contract with Steven White was legal. White was hired to correct problems with TVA's nuclear program.

Roberts met in September 1985 with Gerald Charnoff, the attorney for the D.C. Cook nuclear plant, to discuss what Roberts had told the Justice Department concerning allegations that the utility had violated the NRC's fire-safety regulations.

"When people call me to make appointments, I see them," Roberts said.

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