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
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
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.

What We're Following See More »
ANOTHER GOP MODERATE TO HER SIDE
John Warner to Endorse Clinton
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will score another high-powered Republican endorsement on Wednesday, according to a campaign aide: retired senator John Warner of Virginia, a popular GOP maverick with renowned military credentials."

Source:
AUTHORITY OF EPA IN QUESTION
Appeals Court Hears Clean Power Plant Case
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday "heard several hours of oral arguments" over the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan rules. The 10-judge panel "focused much of their questioning on whether the EPA had overstepped its legal authority by seeking to broadly compel this shift away from coal, a move the EPA calls the Best System of Emission Reduction, or BSER. The states and companies suing the EPA argue the agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate anything outside of a power plant itself."

Source:
$28 MILLION THIS WEEK
Here Come the Ad Buys
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Spending by super PACs tied to Donald Trump friends such as Ben Carson and banker Andy Beal will help make this week the general election's most expensive yet. Republicans and Democrats will spend almost $28 million on radio and television this week, according to advertising records, as Trump substantially increases his advertising buy for the final stretch. He's spending $6.4 million in nine states, part of what aides have said will be a $100 million television campaign through Election Day."

Source:
UNLIKELY TO GET A VOTE, LIKELY TO ANGER GOP SENATORS
Obama Nominates Ambassador to Cuba
11 hours ago
THE LATEST
GOP REFUSED VOTE ON FCC COMMISIONER
Reid Blocks Tech Bill Over “Broken Promise”
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Monday night's debate may have inspired some in Congress, as Senate Minority Leader has decided to take a stand of his own. Reid is declining to allow a vote on a "bipartisan bill that would bolster U.S. spectrum availability and the deployment of wireless broadband." Why? Because of a "broken promise" made a year ago by Republicans, who have refused to vote on confirmation for a Democratic commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission to a second term. Harry Reid then took it a step further, invoking another confirmation vote still outstanding, that of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Source:
×