March 3, 2015 | 6:00 am
Dave Lochbaum
Former Contributor

Fission Stories #183

The NRC’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently issued a report on its audit of the agency’s communications security program. The NRC’s headquarters, regional and resident inspector offices have special equipment that is used to exchange classified information during routine and emergency conditions.

FS183 Figure 1 cone of silence - flickr-michael cote

Photo: Coté

Far more sophisticated than the Cone of Silence employed by Control’s Agent 86 and his Chief, the NRC’s special equipment encrypts data and scrambles voice transmissions to prevent sensitive information from being obtained by unauthorized individuals. The NRC had such special equipment before the tragic events of 9/11. Its deployment and use expanded since that tragedy.

The new fangled Cones of Silence don’t come cheap—the NRC spent $3,622,500 on classified information communications system in Fiscal Year 2013 alone.

But perhaps the NRC should emulate Clint Eastwood and pony up a few dollars more, since the OIG reported it observed a 60% malfunction rate across the NRC’s inventory of secure fax machines due to inadequate maintenance.

FS183 Figure 2 Clint Eastwood - flickr-sam howzit

Photo: Sam Howzit

So, in the event of another national emergency, the NRC’s vaunted communications system might work less than half the time.

Our Takeaway

The OIG team met with senior NRC managers and shared a draft of its report. According to OIG, “agency management stated their general agreement with the findings and recommendations in this report and opted not to provide formal comments for inclusion in this report.” Or maybe they couldn’t get the fax machine to work.

The NRC spends a lot of other people’s money on secure communications equipment. And the NRC truly needs secure communications equipment to prevent and to mitigate nuclear emergencies.

Sure would be swell if the NRC’s considerable investment yielded equipment that worked more than 40% of the time.

FEMA created www.ready.gov to help citizens prepare for crises. The NRC’s counterpart seems to be www.UNready.gov.


“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.