NRC: Nobody Really Cares, and history repeats

Posted July 12th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Funk from the Swamp

A lesson I learned from working on nuclear health and safety issues in the 1980s is that the regulatory process is a sham and that NRC really stands for “Nobody Really Cares” – the GAO finally proved it. Today a Reuters article reports that the so-called Nuclear Regulatory Commission was caught in a GAO sting operation, when they issued a license to a dummy company, to buy enough radioactive material to make a dirty bomb. The GAO investigators never even left their desks. Hat Tip: TPM Muckraker.com

A bit of history: Since my work on the subject was in the pre-internet era, I can’t link to any online documents but this sure brings back memories – of when they issued a license to company that had a criminal conviction, for the restart of TMI Unit 1, which was shut down for maintenance at the time of the accident in Unit 2, i.e., at the time that They Melted It. Subsequent investigation demonstrated that Unit 2 should have also been shut down for maintenance because of radiation leaks from the steam tubes that exceeded the permitted levels. I was an assistant to a couple of attorneys – one of whom, Joanne Doroshaw, intervened in that license proceeding, unsuccessfully, on grounds that character should be a criteria for being licensed to operate a nuclear facility. The other one, Rob Hager, was responsible for writing an Amicus Brief that was signed by 20 State Attorney Generals, who supported Karen Silkwood in the Supreme Court case against Kerr-McGee, on grounds that the appeals court ruling, interfered with their duty to protect the health and safety of their citizens. The appeals court had ruled against Silkwood on grounds that the punitive damages for plutonium contamination found in Silkwood’s house, awarded by a jury acting under state law, was preempted by federal law. Her house wasn’t the only place plutonium was found and the jury didn’t buy it. The Supreme Court sided with the jury. So the NRC then sought to overturn the Silkwood case through legislation. In a memo I dug up at the time via the Freedom of Information Act, the then NRC Commissioner Frederick Bernthal complained that the decision “makes every jury a local NRC.” Exactly! As far as I know, it still stands… We were unable to obtain a memo sent from the NRC to the then Vice-President, George H. Bush, on grounds that it was privileged since it was sent to the executive branch, and pertained in some way to decision-making. So we appealed on grounds that the Vice-President is not a decision-maker, unless it was sent to him as President of the Senate. They didn’t go on record but I received a phone call assuring me that it had been sent to him as President of the Senate…

Then I started organizing the Silkwood Awards, which went to quality control inspectors who had been fired for doing their jobs, and to some local union leaders who had been fighting for participation in decisions about health and safety conditions in their places of work.

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