The senior federal regulator targeted by a whistleblower-type complaint involving Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station has filed a complaint against the Massachusetts congressman who publicized the original anonymous letter and amplified its allegations with a press release.
Troy Pruett, the regulator who had been leading a special team of federal inspectors overseeing the restart at Fort Calhoun, filed the complaint against Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., with the House Ethics Committee on Monday. (Click here to read a PDF of Pruett's complaint.)
He said he did so because he believes Markey's actions were driven by politics.
The highest echelons of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have been embroiled in a rancorous fight over the stringency of nuclear oversight, and at the heart of the debate is a former staffer of Markey's who now leads the NRC, Gregory Jaczko.
Pruett, a regional supervisor of inspectors with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Tuesday he was stunned to find himself at the center of criticism, especially since he saw no effort by Markey to ascertain whether the initial complaints against him were valid.
In Pruett's petition to the committee, Pruett asked for a public reprimand of Markey and for Markey's office to issue a press release acknowledging Pruett's “strong and unyielding focus on public safety.”
Pruett's four-page petition details instances where he said he put his career on the line in defense of public safety or otherwise stood up to NRC management or the nuclear industry. He also responded in detail to the Fort Calhoun allegations.
Last week, Markey issued a press release that listed allegations against Pruett, including claims that he tried to interfere with safety findings at Fort Calhoun.
Markey, a senior member of the House committee that oversees nuclear power, also released a letter signed “Region IV staff” outlining complaints against Pruett.
Pruett works out of the commission's Region IV office in Arlington, Texas.
Pruett has been pulled off the panel overseeing Fort Calhoun's inspections temporarily.
Another senior regional official already familiar with Nebraska will temporarily replace Pruett, according to the NRC. Kriss Kennedy, Pruett's boss, helped lead inspections of the then-troubled Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, Neb., about 10 years ago.
The staff complaint against Pruett highlighted problems at Fort Calhoun, in particular a “contentious” disagreement over how much potential for danger was posed by an electrical fire at the plant.
The reactor, owned by the Omaha Public Power District, is located about 20 miles north of Omaha. It has been off line more than a year due to problems from last summer's flood and the fire.
The anonymous staff letter said that Pruett “stated strident disagreement” with the staff's position that the fire merited a severe penalty, a so-called red finding, and that he ordered additional, unnecessary analysis.
For his part, Pruett called it an example of genuine disagreement, and in his petition to the House Ethics Committee, he reiterated his belief that the red finding was unwarranted.
“It is no secret that I believed the risk analysis did not support the issuance of a Red finding ...” he wrote the House committee. “Several assumptions used in this risk analysis were not, in my opinion, realistic.”
He went on to say that once he made his point clear internally, he did his job and enforced the provisions of the red finding.
Pruett's letter also says he believes he has pushed aggressively on inspections at Fort Calhoun and he cited two examples:
» NRC inspectors had proposed a single negative citation against OPPD for problems related to security at Fort Calhoun. Pruett said he encouraged staff to look further, which led to two negative citations. Pruett was not at liberty to talk about the nature of the security problems, except to say they had been fixed.
» NRC inspectors were frustrated that OPPD's policies do not require at least one emergency generator to be functional during cold shutdown. Most other nuclear plants require this. Federal inspectors thought they lacked the authority to force OPPD to alter its policies. Pruett said he pushed staff to look further, even to go to the NRC's national headquarters for support. This resulted in a “much tougher regulatory position” and, as a result, the NRC and OPPD are working through the issue.
Pruett also said the anonymous NRC letter falsely states that he traveled to NRC headquarters to downplay the need for a red finding at Fort Calhoun. He did travel to the commission's national headquarters, but the purpose was to brief officials on public meetings in Nebraska.
Conversations between Pruett and headquarters staff about Omaha's red finding were done over the phone and were initiated by upper management.
Pruett told the committee that he supports any external or internal investigation of the issue.
Likewise, Markey's office has called for an independent investigation, a step also requested in the complaint about Pruett.
Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the issue has been referred to the agency's inspector general, an independent watchdog. He said the referral predated Markey's letter.
Contact the writer: