October 29, 2013 | 6:00 am
Dave Lochbaum
Former Contributor

Fission Stories #149

I’m neither stuttering nor reporting from Monty Python’s Department of Redundancy Department. I’m referring to a recent problem at the North Anna Power Station (NAPS).

On June 24, 2013, the NRC informed NAPS’ owner about the findings from an inquiry conducted by its Office of Investigations (OI). The OI determined that a security officer at NAPS had been “deliberately inattentive to duty while posted in a Bullet Resistance Enclosure (BRE)” at NAPS which prevented the owner “from ensuring that all on-duty security force personnel are capable of maintaining continuous communications with each alarm station.”

“Deliberately inattentive” is nukespeak for a range of behaviors the NRC frowns upon. Sleeping while on duty is included, as is intentionally disabling communication equipment so as to occupy the BRE without being interrupted, putting on a headset to listen to recent downloads from iTunes, and catching up on back issues of People magazine.

While the security officer may not have been napping at NAPS, this individual will never be “deliberately inattentive” at NAPS again – the owner deliberately terminated this security officer’s employment.

Our Takeaway

The NRC’s report on this event is cryptic for security and privacy reasons.

Hopefully, this individual was guilty of poor behavior that warranted being fired from the job. UCS has no information about this episode to the contrary.

But UCS has heard about security officers at other nuclear plants being fired for having unintentionally nodded off while on duty.

What’s the difference?

People make mistakes. A fundamental nuclear safety tenet involves mistakes being freely reported. This allows their causes to be identified and appropriate solutions implemented.

An absolute zero tolerance against napping on duty puts the worker who accidentally fell asleep in a no-win position: report the incident and get fired or cover-up the incident and compound the initial sin.

Engineers who accidentally make math errors during calculations, operators who turn the wrong switch during testing, and technicians who skip procedure steps while performing maintenance can report such mistakes without it being career-ending. This allows individual and systemic weaknesses to be identified and corrected.

Security officers who realize they have been unintentionally inattentive while on duty need the same right to report such problems without an initial report ending a long, responsible career.


“Fission Stories” is a weekly feature by Dave Lochbaum. For more information on nuclear power safety, see the nuclear safety section of UCS’s website and our interactive map, the Nuclear Power Information Tracker.