The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Safety Culture

Published Feb 9, 2017


Part of the job of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—the US agency charged with reactor safety—is to ensure that workers at US nuclear power plants feel free to raise safety issues, and that management responds proactively and without rebuke.

For decades, the NRC has performed this function admirably. Investigations into safety incidents regularly assess the cultures that allowed the issues to arise, and the agency has repeatedly intervened to restore a positive safety culture.

And yet, despite their regulatory actions, the NRC has failed to foster a positive safety culture within the agency itself. Numerous surveys of NRC employees reveal an unacceptably high percentage of staff that’s afraid of reprisal and unwilling to contradict the agency’s official conclusions.

  • The percentage of NRC workers who stated they could not disclose a suspected violation of law for fear of reprisal increased every year from 2010 to 2015, with 13 percent of workers falling into this category in 2015
  • Surveys have shown that only 15 percent of the NRC workforce would be willing to raise a safety concern via the “Differing Professional Opinion Program”
  • 53 percent of the NRC workforce stated their co-workers would not use an official non-concurrence process to raise a safety concern

The NRC has intervened at nuclear power plants when lower percentages of workers report fears of retaliation. Congress should compel the NRC to follow its own standard.

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