The NRC recently issued its Allegation Program Annual Trends Report. The report analyzes regional, national, and site-specific allegation trends for calendar year 2020. The report’s top-line numbers show that the number of allegations fell approximately 10% from 2019. This reduction continues the decline in allegations seen since 2016; and the number of allegations has fallen by more than 50% over the past five years. But while the overall number of allegations continued to decline in 2020, the rate of decline slowed.
The decline in allegations in 2020 was led by a reduction in allegations involving reactor licensees. But the reason for this decline is not clear and the reduction does not appear to be related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The NRC recognized that remote work and fewer face-to-face interactions may have contributed to the reduction in allegations from reactor licensees, but found no conclusive data to show that this was, in fact, the case.
The largest percentage of allegations the NRC received for reactor licensees involved retaliation-related concerns. The NRC noted that the number of retaliation-related concerns it received in 2020 tracked 2019, but that the rate at which it received these concerns fell during the year. This somewhat tracks trends seen at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which saw a decrease in retaliation complaints under the Energy Reorganization Act in FY 2020. And the NRC found no clear trend in the work department (e.g., maintenance, operations, etc.) where the workers felt retaliated against. The NRC also wrote that when it published the report, it had not substantiated a discrimination concern raised in 2020, but that about 30% of these concerns remained open and were either being investigated or in the NRC’s pre-investigation alternative dispute resolution process.
The second largest percentage of allegations the NRC received for reactor licensees were chilling effect/chilled work environment concerns. The number of these concerns fell significantly from 2019, when it was the top category. In 2020, licensee employees raised twice as many chilling effect/chilled work environment concerns as contractors. And the most frequently cited behavior allegedly chilling the workforce was that concerns either not being documented in a condition report, not addressed if documented, or that employees were discouraged from writing condition reports.
While the NRC received fewer allegations overall, the number of allegations from materials licensees increased by 9% in 2020. This corresponds to the increase in investigations of material licensees, which increased by 73% in the past year. This increase was led by allegations involving exempt distribution products, which saw a 45% increase from 2019. The NRC saw a smaller increase in concerns about decommissioning reactors, while the number of allegations from fuel cycle facilities declined slightly.
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.