REFRESH: In Nuclear Power Plants – Behavior Is Under Observation

Mark Resner
Access Authorization Program Coordinator


refresh leafThe NRC requires that all nuclear power plants follow strict access authorization regulations that are intended to make sure only trusted individuals have the OK to be in the most sensitive areas of the plant. These access authorization regulations require fingerprint checks, drug and alcohol screening, psychological testing and other hurdles when employees are first hired, and must be periodically updated if the individuals are to continue to have access to these areas.

But even once a worker has been granted so-called unescorted access, they are still subject to a “behavioral observation program.” In other words, the NRC requires that every plant have a program in which all employees and supervisors are trained in detecting problems such as drug or alcohol abuse or other impairments of employees.

As part of the program, all employees are required to report to their supervisors any suspicious behavior they see among their coworkers. Suspicious behavior could be a worker observed in an area of the plant where they don’t have authorization to be, or if a worker made threatening statements about harming people or plant equipment.

The NRC regulations even require workers to report on themselves or “self-disclose” if they, for whatever reason, believe they are no longer mentally and physically fit to safely perform their duties. An example of this is an employee undergoing marital problems that are causing them stress that interferes with their duties. Such an employee may be referred to an Employee Assistance Program or their assigned duties may be changed until the person is deemed fit for duty.

If a determination is made to deny the person unescorted access for any reason, their name and that fact is entered into an information sharing database that NRC requires all U.S. nuclear power plants to use. Should that person attempt to enter (or get a job at) another nuclear plant, the information about their access status would be available for review by the plant they were attempting to access.

Ultimately, a determination that an employee is not trustworthy or reliable – based on behavior observation or self reporting — has serious implications for that person maintaining their access authorization but such determinations are necessary to keep nuclear power plants operating safely in their communities.

REFRESH is an occasional series where we revisit previous blog posts. This one originally ran in May 2012.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

10 thoughts on “REFRESH: In Nuclear Power Plants – Behavior Is Under Observation”

  1. IF you make a mistake in nuclear power concerning access concerning the trustworthy and reliable label. Then you are badged later on and that utility knows all of this is it fair for the utility that says you are not trustworthy to keep this on you till the end of time. 7 years have past and I had 2 chances to return with good folks trying to help and both times not given that chance. When does someone pay enough for their mistake

  2. Well, I’m happy to see strict security measures at a nuclear plants. Trying to limit human mistakes is the best thing to do for our security.

  3. Thank you, Moderator, for going the extra mile to expose the “commenter” as just another purveyor of FUD making his daily rounds. Such lies must not go unchallenged.

  4. Human Reliability and Security is one of the most important “wheels” in the machine we call a nuclear reactor and the materials associated with producing nuclear power.

    It is more than drug and alcohol screening, character and behavior must be evaluated. Human Reliability and Security must involve every person in operations, maintenance, security, and the decision making chain involving all nuclear materials and the operation of all nuclear devices and facilities.

    Repetitive errors in corrective action program problem resolutions should trigger management and employee evaluations as to why a reactor, section or people make continuous errors. Some nuclear facilities continuously demonstrate a lack of attention to detail in problem resolution connected to corrective action programs. Shouldn’t such repetitive failures by evaluated by a psychologist focusing on groups and culture within a facility or section?

    Should the corporate executives involved in nuclear power operations, materials production and the NRC Commissioners themselves be subjected to psychological scrutiny in a Human Reliability-Security Program??

  5. The often out of the way small town settings where many nuke plants reside makes drinking an easy hobby.

    This 21 YO girl indicates how a superior supervisor at the nuke plant gave her clothing emblazoned with “Dose Babes” and the crew went out drinking where she got 4 beers for $1.

    Just saying the potential for alcohol and substance abuse is high in these scenarios of remote locations and good pay and not much to do. It’s an inherent problem, not a failing of the NRC per se.;imode

    [NRC Moderator: This comment has been edited to remove personally identifiable information.]

  6. Who is to believe that a can of beer accidently got into a nuke worker lunch box?

    My mistake about containment….at nuke plants “containment” has a different connotation than other government SKIF high security areas. OF course I did not mean to imply he was in the reactor itself. At other government top secret facilties containment simply means passed through the high level checkpoint (i.e. not the guard at the drive in gate)

    Occams Razor would imply that rather an isolated event, this is more likely to be a routine event that finally got caught.

    The Razor also implores to look at what is not being said….which is, if there was only one beer in the lunch box (i.e. the open one as per the NRC report) that I as an investigator and writer of the report would certainly point out that there was no other beer present. This was not stated.

    And are we to believe this person opened the beer, realized his mistake, and then immediately reported himself rather than just sneaking to a bathroom and disposing the evidence.

    Just saying, what is not being said is often where the truth lies (pun intended)

  7. The commenter raises two issues:

    1) As the blog states, employees and supervisors are trained in behavioral observation and able to report any suspected substance abuse.
    2) The NRC emphasizes the importance of a safety conscious work environment where employees feel free to raise safety issues without fear of retaliation or discrimination. Anyone who is aware of employees being retaliated against for raising safety concerns is encouraged to file an allegation with the NRC. Information about reporting safety concerns (as well as the NRC’s safety conscious work environment policy) is available here at


  8. Drug and alcohol abuse is an issue for every industry. NRC’s Fitness for Duty regulations are designed to deter, detect and deal with instances at NRC-licensed facilities. We asked the commenter for information about his claim, and he referred to NRC Event Report 47355, from October 19, 2011. That event report states:


    “At 1244 CST a prohibited substance (can of beer) was discovered open in the protected area. The non-supervisory, non-licensed individual involved did not consume any alcohol and was tested under the FFD program. The prohibited substance (alcohol) has been confiscated and FFD test results were negative for consumption. The can of beer was inadvertently brought in the person’s lunch box and opened before the individual realized the error.

    “This report is being made in accordance Significant Fitness-Far-Duty Events 10 CFR 26.719 (b) Significant FFD policy violations or programmatic failures. The following significant FFD policy violations and programmatic failures must be reported to the NRC Operations Center by telephone within 24 hours after the licensee or other entity discovers the violation: ‘(1) The use, sale, distribution, possession, or presence of illegal drugs, or the consumption or presence of alcohol within a protected area.’

    “The licensee notified the NRC Resident Inspector.”

    The incident occurred in the Protected Area, not “containment,” and that the employee was not “pounding” alcohol but in possession of it.


  9. One would hope that all employees (including Supervisors) are being “observed” in the same manner.

    I know employees that used to work at San Onofre that have been discriminated against after the NRC shared comments they made as employees with Plant Supervisors. If the NRC does not provide strict access to all submitted information, employees that are concerned with safety will end up being “blackballed” from working in the nuclear industry simply because they spoke up about plant safety and/or other similar topics.

  10. Those consideration alone with not allow nuclear to “operate safely in the community”.

    They should all be far away from communities, all the Mark 1s should be shut down, and a direct cost analysis compared to Solar PV with all outyears costs including on the nuke ledger should be forced, including competitive bids for solar farms with or without storage as needed by the load profile and other RE sources.

    Nonwithstanding, there are multiple instances of drug and alcohol abuse within the industry, including a worker at Kewaunee pounding beer in containment while on duty.

    Mixing humans and criticality reactions is wrong on such a basic level. Thank you.

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