The NRC recently issued its Allegation Program Annual Trends Report analyzing regional, national, and site-specific allegation trends for calendar year 2019. The report shows a decrease of almost 50% in total allegations between 2015 and 2019. The cover letter to the report attributes this decrease to “[i]ncreased focus by the [NRC] and licensees on maintaining environments for raising concerns.” Notwithstanding this, allegations of chilled work environments and discrimination for raising safety concerns make up the vast majority of allegations among reactor sites.
The NRC defines an allegation as “a declaration, statement, or assertion of impropriety or inadequacy associated with NRC-regulated activities, the validity of which has not been established.” An allegation can be filed by any licensee employee, contractor, or member of the public, and may cover many different concerns, including potential safety issues, non-conformance with NRC licenses or requirements, discrimination or retaliation for raising a safety concern, or concerns about the ability of employees or contractors to raise a safety concern.
The total number of allegations in 2019 continued a downward trend since 2015, and was down 19% compared to 2018. For reactor licensees, chilling effect and chilled work environment concerns made up the largest percentage of NRC allegations; 3% of those allegations were substantiated. Discrimination concerns made up the next highest percentage of allegations. Other categories of allegations related to fitness for duty and security-related concerns, with the largest percentage of each relating to procedural noncompliance.
Of significant note, about half of the reactor wrongdoing-related concerns were raised by licensee management to the NRC. The largest percentage of wrongdoing concerns raised in connection with reactor licensees were allegations of willful procedural noncompliance. The report also emphasized that that, even though five reactors had ceased operations in the last five years, these shutdowns do “not explain the magnitude of the declining trend, as these sites [that shutdown] contribution to the decline from 2017 to 2019 accounted for less than 25 percent of the total.”
Morgan Lewis routinely assists licensees responding to allegations and provides training on detecting and preventing discrimination and chilling effect and will continue closely following NRC Allegation Program developments.