TAKE ACTION – Nuclear Safety Oversight: Saving Dollars, Making Sense
The House FY13 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) makes several dramatic changes to our country’s nuclear safety standards. These changes were hardly discussed and were made without the attention of most members. Now, the Senate has a responsibility to protect American lives and tax dollars by affirming the primacy of safety in America’s nuclear enterprise through its FY13 NDAA.
Reduced nuclear safety oversight won’t just put thousands of nuclear workers at risk; it will also increase the federal government’s financial liability to those workers. The federal government currently has an $8 billion liability to 70,000 nuclear workers who became sick or were injured due to a lack of safety oversight in past decades. Further, a compelling case has not been made for why current safety oversight mechanisms should be changed or how the success of nuclear safety oversight regulations should be measured.
Take Action on Monday, Dec. 3!
This issue is so "in the weeds" that most members of Congress assume none of their constituents care - let's PROVE THEM WRONG! Join us for a national call in day, Monday, December 3. This is about our safety and the fight for a nuclear weapons free world. Our Georgia targets are: Sen. Saxby Chambliss , Rep. Hank Johnson, Rep. Austin Scott. Here's what to do:
Call capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) and ask to be connected to your Senator or Representative from our target list below.
Tell the staffer who answers that you are a constituent and a member of Georgia WAND. Tell them that you want your Senator/Representative to reject the House-passed changes to the safety and oversight system for nuclear weapons facilities during conference for the National Defense Authorization Act. Then tell the staffer that their office has received a letter with more details about this issue signed by your local group and as well as other groups across the country.
Diminishing Safety Standards
The House NDAA dictates using Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards at nuclear weapons facilities; rather than the more stringent, recently updated, standards which have been developed by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and are currently in use. It should be noted that NNSA’s higher standards aren’t just necessary for workers in direct contact with nuclear materials. It is just as important to keep high safety standards for those in a facility’s main control room as it is for workers directly handling radioactive materials.
Transactional Oversight vs. Performance-based Oversight
Currently nuclear oversight is “transactional”, meaning that regulators actively investigate nuclear facilities to ensure that best practices are followed with the goal of avoiding an accident. “Performance-based” oversight is the style used by the National Transportation Safety Board, which would only investigate an airline’s safety procedures based on that airline’s performance after a plane crash. It is not prudent to wait for a ‘nuclear plane crash’ before exploring safety procedures at nuclear facilities.
The creation of a “National Nuclear Security Administration Council” in the House NDAA gives management and operating contractors a new avenue to promote their own profit-driven agendas. This new council would blur the line between policy making and implementation, giving contractors a voice in the process that determines larger NNSA priorities.
Additionally, the NDAA tampers with the DNFSB’s independence, allowing the NNSA Administrator to meddle in the Board’s investigative and analytical processes. The House NDAA mandate that the DNFSB consider factors outside of their engineering and scientific mandate, such as cost, makes workers in the vicinity of high hazard nuclear operations less safe. The NNSA Administrator can and should take cost and feasibility into consideration, but s/he should have the advantage of basing their decisions on the DNFSB’s purely technical opinions – after all Board members are appointed for their engineering, not accounting acumen. Requiring staff at both DNFSB and NNSA to consider all variables (scientific as well as budgetary) creates unnecessary redundancy that will cost more in the long term.
With this NDAA, the House Armed Services Committee oversteps its jurisdiction and rewrites the Department of Energy Organization Act, all but removing the NNSA from the Secretary of Energy’s bailiwick. This change in the chain of command further complicates the relationship between the DNFSB and NNSA, as the DNFSB’s founding statute directs them to report to the Secretary of Energy, not the NNSA Administrator. Additionally, the NDAA hampers the DNFSB with additional staffing and communication requirements.
How to Fix the NDAA
The following section-by-section review of the House NDAA’s nuclear safety oversight provisions provides a road map for NDAA conferees.
Strike Section 3113 Requires abandoning “transactional oversight” within the nuclear weapons complex.
Strike Section 3114 Creates a “National Nuclear Security Administration Council”, which would give contractors more authority to regulate themselves.
Strike Section 3115 Dictates that agencies supervising nuclear laboratories use OSHA standards from the 1970s, rather than NNSA standards developed in the 1990s. While this section does include some exceptions for workers dealing directly with radioactivity or beryllium, it would still leave thousands of federal employees and contractors with increased exposure to chemical toxins. This section also reinforces the use of performance-based oversight at the nuclear laboratories. This section also requires an analysis of the costs and benefits of these changes only after they have been implemented. An analysis of current nuclear safety oversight practices should provide justification for any changes before they are written into law.
Strike Section 3117 Calls for “streamlining” nuclear safety oversight, reducing reporting requirements and giving contractors more latitude in direct procurement and subcontracting.
Strike Section 3132 Gives the National Nuclear Security Administrator increased autonomy and allows the Secretary of Energy to further sever the relationship between nuclear weapons production and defense nuclear waste remediation.
Strike Section 3133 Amends the National Nuclear Security Administration Act to make it much more difficult for the Secretary of Energy to supervise the National Nuclear Security Administrator.
Strike Section 3202 Adds new layers of bureaucracy to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board including new requirements on how members of the Board communicate, additional staffing requirements, and dictates that the Board stray from their mandate for technical and engineering oversight and include unrelated factors such as cost, practicability, and economic feasibility. This section also gives the NNSA Administrator the opportunity to influence content of DNFSB recommendations before they are finalized.