The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Investigations (OI) recently published its Office of Investigations Annual Report FY 2018. The report provides an overview of OI’s activities during the previous fiscal year and shows that OI opened 12% fewer cases than in 2017. Of the 101 cases opened in FY 2018, 40% were discrimination cases, a 4% increase from FY 2017. “Discrimination” in this context refers to retaliation for engaging in protected activities established in Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, as amended. Discrimination has remained the largest case category for the past three years. Material false statement investigations reflect 16% of the cases OI opened in FY 2018, a 4% decrease from FY 2017. Investigations into other alleged violations of NRC regulations reflect 27% of the cases OI opened in FY 2018, and investigations opened to provide assistance to the NRC staff reflect 18% of the cases OI opened in FY 2018.
OI substantiated willfulness for one or more of the allegations of wrongdoing in 21% of the investigations opened in 2018. The results of a number of investigations remain under regulatory review by the NRC staff. One of the more significant enforcement actions to result from the substantiated allegations involved a reactor licensee’s violation of 10 CFR § 50.7. In that case, the licensee was found to have put a contractor on paid administrative leave pending an investigation at least in part because the contractor raised safety and retaliation concerns. The NRC classified the violation as Severity Level II and proposed a $232,000 civil penalty.
Notwithstanding this enforcement action and others taken against reactor licensees, the OI report reveals a shift in the number of allegations involving reactor licensees versus materials licensees. Notably, OI opened 20% fewer reactor cases in FY 2018 than in FY 2017, including investigations into reactor licensees and assists to staff regarding those licensees. In contrast, OI opened 23% more materials cases in FY 2018 than it did in FY 2017, reflecting both investigations into materials licensees and assists to staff regarding those licensees. This shift may mark the beginning of a change in OI’s focus from reactor licensees to materials licensees.
We counsel reactor and materials licensees and their contractors about OI investigations and will continue to closely follow developments in this area.