NRC Denies Senator’s Claim of Obstruction in Nuclear Reactor Investigation

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane delivers a speech at the Fukushima Ministerial Conference in Japan last year. Macfarlane is denying charges from Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that the commission is withholding requested information.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
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Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
Nov. 21, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion Chair­wo­man Al­lis­on Mac­far­lane is deny­ing claims that her or­gan­iz­a­tion is with­hold­ing in­form­a­tion re­lated to a now-de­funct nuc­le­ar power plant that law­makers and watch­dog groups feared was a se­cur­ity risk.

At the on­set of an over­sight hear­ing on Cap­it­ol Hill on Thursday, Sen­at­or Bar­bara Box­er (D-Cal­if.) said that NRC per­son­nel this week at­temp­ted to re­strict her staff’s ac­cess to re­cords per­tain­ing to the San Ono­fre nuc­le­ar power plant in her home state.

The plant’s op­er­at­or, South­ern Cali­for­nia Edis­on, an­nounced it would close the fa­cil­ity earli­er this year after Box­er raised con­cerns about dam­aged steam gen­er­at­ors that act­iv­ists said made the site vul­ner­able to sab­ot­age.

Box­er, who chairs the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, said NRC of­fi­cials “even told [her] staff that they could be searched to en­sure they had not taken any doc­u­ments” in the course of do­ing work re­lated to the sen­at­or’s San Ono­fre in­vest­ig­a­tion earli­er this week.

Ac­cord­ing to Box­er, the in­cid­ent was an out­growth of a “uni­lat­er­al and dis­turb­ing change” that the com­mis­sion made re­cently to “its policies on provid­ing in­form­a­tion to Con­gress.” The change, the law­maker said, “al­lows the NRC to broadly deny in­form­a­tion to in­di­vidu­al mem­bers of Con­gress.”

The five pres­id­en­tially ap­poin­ted com­mis­sion­ers did not get an op­por­tun­ity dur­ing Thursday’s hear­ing to re­spond to Box­er’s charges, as the ses­sion ab­ruptly ad­journed due to un­re­lated ac­tion on the Sen­ate floor.

Mac­far­lane denied the claims in a brief ex­change with re­port­ers after the hear­ing, however.

“We would nev­er say such a thing,” Mac­far­lane said in ref­er­ence to Box­er’s claims that NRC per­son­nel threatened to search the sen­at­or’s staff. The NRC chair­wo­man at­trib­uted the ac­cus­a­tions to a “gen­er­al mis­un­der­stand­ing” re­gard­ing the com­mis­sion’s new policy for provid­ing in­form­a­tion to Con­gress.

Mac­far­lane sug­ges­ted that the only as­pect of the new policy worth not­ing was that mem­bers of Cap­it­ol Hill com­mit­tees with NRC over­sight au­thor­ity must now dir­ect re­quests for in­form­a­tion through either the con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee chair or its top-rank­ing minor­ity mem­ber.

She said a Justice De­part­ment re­view of the policy found it to be among the least re­strict­ive across the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. That would dir­ectly con­tra­dict a claim made by Box­er, who said an NRC poll of fed­er­al agen­cies de­term­ined that the policy was more re­strict­ive than that of any oth­er agency.

The NRC chair­wo­man de­clined to dis­cuss the nature of the doc­u­ments that the Cali­for­nia sen­at­or had sought re­l­at­ive to the San Ono­fre plant.

Box­er in­dic­ated dur­ing the hear­ing that she would con­tin­ue to pur­sue the is­sue.

“Let me be clear: No form of agency in­tim­id­a­tion or ob­struc­tion will be tol­er­ated in this com­mit­tee’s in­vest­ig­a­tion or its con­sti­tu­tion­al over­sight re­spons­ib­il­it­ies,” she said.

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