USEC & NRC accused of suppressing safety concerns

1 October 1998

The recently privatised United States Enrichment Corp (USEC) has denied any breaches of safety regulations at its Portsmouth and Paducah diffusion plants. The denial follows an accusation made on 16 September, by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and antinuclear groups the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Citizen, that the National Regulatory Commission (NRC) covered up safety concerns at the plants in the run up to privatisation.

“The Paducah and Portsmouth plants...are safely operated and must achieve compliance with regulations of the NRC,” USEC says in its response.

Jim Riccio of Public Citizen claims to have found documents in the NRC’s public documents room, written in preparation for a senior management meeting, which indicated seismic problems at Paducah and concerns over criticality issues at Portsmouth. Security at both sites was also a concern. The documents were removed from public view shortly after they were placed in the public documents room.

In a letter to the NRC, Riccio, Nader and David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer at the UCS, accuse the NRC of breaching its own guidelines by allowing the facilities to continue operation.

“Despite serious and documented safety violations, NRC and USEC officials withheld important information from the public on the safety problems at USEC’s plants,” says the letter. “In addition to endangering the health and safety of workers and the public, the NRC facilitated the defrauding of investors. The NRC appears to have violated its own regulations in order to maintain the facade that USEC was properly operating its facilities.” According to Victor Dricks, a NRC spokesman, the documents were put in the public reading room by mistake and were withdrawn when officials realised they were ‘predecisional’.

USEC acknowledges some compliance issues which it is in the process of addressing. The charges “are without merit and represent allegations and misrepresentations of incidents and situations that have been publicly disclosed and which have been addressed,” said USEC representative Elizabeth Stuckle. “Virtually all the matters cited were compliance issues, not safety matters.” The NRC has said it will issue a detailed response.

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