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ACTION ALERT: Nuclear Safety Oversight: Saving Dollars, Making Sense


December 2, 2012
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability

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.

http://www.ananuclear.org/

Nuclear Safety Oversight:
Saving Dollars, Making Sense


Find the FY13 House National Defense Authorization Act online at http://bit.ly/fy13houseNDAA

(November 28, 2012) -- 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.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE HOUSE NDAA?

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.

Independent Oversight
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.

Building Bureaucracy
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.



An Appeal to Congress for a Responsible NDAA
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability

The Honorable Carl Levin
Chairman Senate Committee on Armed Services
228 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C.

The Honorable Howard P. "Buck" McKeon
Chairman House Committee on Armed Services
2120 Rayburn House Office Building

The Honorable John McCain
Ranking Member Senate Committee on Armed Services
228 Russell Senate Office Building

The Honorable Adam Smith
Ranking Member House Committee on Armed Services
2120 Rayburn House Office Building


(November 28, 2012) -- Dear Sirs:

We write to express our firm opposition to certain provisions of the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as they relate to safety, security, and management of the nuclear weapons complex.

The federal government currently carries an $8 billion liability to 70,000 nuclear workers who became sick or were injured due to a lack of effective safety oversight in past decades. Safety and oversight improvements related to the nuclear complex have prevented countless injuries and saved billions of tax dollars from being wasted over the past two decades. Now is not the time to roll these standards back. Further, a compelling case has not been made for changing safety standards. No evidence has been presented that the current system is broken or that the House-passed changes would improve nuclear oversight.

The following sections of Title 31 of the House-passed NDAA should not be included in the final conference version of the bill:

Section 3113 Requires abandoning "transactional oversight" within the nuclear weapons complex in favor of the more reactionary "performance based" oversight model.

Section 3114 Creates a "National Nuclear Security Administration Council," which would give contractors more authority to regulate themselves.

Section 3115 Dictates that agencies supervising nuclear laboratories use OSHA standards from the 1970s, rather than National Nuclear Security Administration (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 requires an analysis of the costs and benefits of nuclear oversight 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.

Section 3117 Calls for "streamlining" nuclear safety oversight, reducing reporting requirements and giving contractors more latitude in direct procurement and subcontracting.

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.

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.

Section 3202 Adds new layers of bureaucracy to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) including new requirements on how Board members 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 the content of DNFSB recommendations before they are finalized.

If these provisions are included in the final NDAA, nuclear safety will be significantly imperiled.

Losing "performance-based oversight" would greatly hinder the DNFSB's ability to recommend changes that could prevent accidents at defense nuclear sites. Currently, the DNFSB has the authority to implement "transactional oversight", meaning that it prescribes best practices in the hopes of avoiding an accident. "Performance-based" oversight is used by the National Transportation Safety Board, which would only investigate an airline's safety procedures after a plane crash.

The DNFSB's involvement early in nuclear projects has prevented the very types of accidents that performance-based oversight would seek to correct after the fact. In the context of the Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford Reservation, these accidents could cost tens of billions of dollars and cause catastrophic environmental contamination.

Additionally, requiring the DNFSB to include non-technical factors in their safety evaluations undercuts worker safety and duplicates efforts already underway at the NNSA. Cost should not be the primary factor driving safety measures, the DNFSB should base its decisions on science and what's best for workers and communities. It should be the NNSA's responsibility to consider cost restrictions and determine implementation steps.

By enshrining contractors' role in determining how to achieve safety standards through the creation of a "National Nuclear Security Administration Council", the NDAA moves closer to allowing nuclear weapons labs to supervise themselves. The bottom line for contractors running the nuclear labs is profit, not community or worker safety and contractors require appropriate oversight. In 2011, the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant demonstrated what happens when nuclear oversight takes a backseat to profits.

Please feel welcome to contact Katherine Fuchs at the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability with any additional questions about nuclear safety oversight and the NDAA.

Respectfully,
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and a coalition of environmental and peace groups -- including Environmentalists Against War.

Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Washington, DC office: 322 4th St. NE; Washington DC 20003; 202/544-6143; fax: 202/544-6143 Columbia, SC office: 1112 Florence St.; Columbia, SC 29201; 803/834-3084 www.ananuclear.org

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