The U.K. atomic regulator's technical contracts have created conflicts of interest that threaten the office's ability to do its job, the London Independent reports.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation currently receives support from some of the same firms it is required to regulate, including the U.S. engineering conglomerate Jacobs, which is a member of the Atomic Weapons Establishment consortium that designs and produces components of the British nuclear arsenal, according to the Tuesday article.
In April, the watchdog organization awarded Jacobs a five-year contract to provide technical assistance in such areas as examining decontamination and external risks related to ongoing work at atomic sites and new reactor designs.
Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates member David Lowry argued the regulator's technical advice contracts clearly represent a "conflict of interest."
"It's such a straightforward conflict of interest. This is indefensible," Lowry said.
While Office for Nuclear Regulation chairman Nick Baldwin acknowledged that "we have these concerns, too," he said there existed only a "small gene pool" of companies with the ability to furnish the technical recommendations that his inspectors need to perform their jobs. He said no individuals that provide advice to the regulator also work on the projects that his agency is in charge of overseeing.
"ONR would not tolerate a situation in which a person carrying out an assessment for ONR is also working on a related matter for a current or prospective licensee," an unidentified spokesman from the regulator said. "Should a potential conflict of interest emerge, we have a clear protocol that provides a robust process and defines clear criteria against which the emerging conflict can be judged."