Journalism in the Public Interest


Editor’s Note on Our Investigation Into Fire Risks at Nuclear Power Plants

Today's publication of our story on the threat posed by fire to nuclear power plants offers readers a rare opportunity. Two excellent journalists, working independently of each other, have produced a detailed investigative story on the same subject.

Susan Q. Stranahan, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter working for the Center for Public Integrity, and John Sullivan, a former New York Times reporter working for ProPublica, both conclude that regulators are not doing enough to safeguard the plants against fire.

At ProPublica, we began asking questions about this issue long before the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant. The response from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can only be characterized as hostile. Spokesmen for the agency repeatedly rejected any suggestion that they were allowing fire hazards to persist at the nation's nuclear plants.

Last September, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Eliot Brenner sent an email in response to our written questions. It said the "fire safety program leadership" had asked him "to relay their conviction that the time devoted to ProPublica's two years of questions has taken staff away from performing mission critical safety activities on behalf of the public."

In my more than three decades of covering the federal government, I have never seen such a response to legitimate questions about a crucial issue.

I invite readers, elected officials, and political leaders of the Obama administration to read our story and Ms. Shanahan's to judge whether the NRC is adequately addressing fire safety.

The NRC is a federal agency and its employees are members of the federal civil service. By the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, there is a covenant between the federal government and the federal civil service - the government will ensure members of the federal civil service are adequately protected from reprisal and other “prohibited personnel practices (PPPs)” as they perform their duties in a trustworthy fashion, per the merit system principles.

The government renounced its part of the covenant in 1979, when 2 specialized agencies created by the CSRA renounced/interpreted away essential aspects of their nondiscretionary statutory duties to protect federal employees from PPPs.

This “broken covenant” is described, in eye-glazing civil service law detail, at

The issues at NRC include causes that are outside NRC’s walls - federal employees are not adequately protected from PPPs, because the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board renounced vital aspects of their duties to protect them in 1979. NRC cannot be fixed without asking quesion “Are NRC employees adequately protected from PPPs?” Ditto SEC, FBI, CIA, DOJ, EPA, DOE, DHS, Federal Reserve, TVA, Fannie Mae and Fredie Mac, DOI, Veteran’s Administration, etc, etc. The CSRA’s 32 year-long and counting broken covenant by the federal government to the federal civil service is a significant factor to much which has befallen America and besets it now.

America is a much diminished and more threatened Country because of it and the issues in NRC reflect it.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Nuclear Safety

Nuclear Safety

With the disaster in Japan, we're investigating questions about nuclear safety.

The Story So Far

Following a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, hydrogen explosions rocked three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Radioactive spent fuel stored in pools was also affected, especially at one reactor—the plant has a total of six—where multiple fires erupted. Evacuation orders were issued, potassium iodine tablets distributed, and plant employees used seawater and external electrical power to cool the stricken reactors, three of which had a partial core meltdown.

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