Internal NRC investigation fails to resolve threat of meltdowns at 19 nuclear power plants

Washington, DC – Today, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) whistleblower Larry Criscione and his attorneys at the Government Accountability Project (GAP) commented on findings by the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that his safety concerns at 20 percent of the nation’s nuclear power plants have not been resolved.

Since September 18, 2012, Criscione has been warning Congress, environmental organizations and the Special Counsel that internal NRC research indicates 19 nuclear power plants are structurally inadequate to withstand an upstream dam break. The odds of a dam break are exponentially higher than originally postulated during initial reactor licensing in the early 1970s. The consequences would be meltdowns that force multi-state evacuations.

In 2014, the OSC found a substantial likelihood that Mr. Criscione’s concerns are well taken, and ordered an NRC investigation and report. The report denied any vulnerability and actually recommended weakening safety requirements further—such as lowering current 19-foot requirements for flood walls at the Oconee nuclear plant in South Carolina to five feet, their current height. After sending the first draft of the report back, when the NRC did not modify its findings, the OSC closed the case but not the issue. Acting Special Counsel Tristan Leavitt noted that subject matter experts are not satisfied, and “encourage[d] NRC to carefully consider Mr. Criscione’s and the other subject matter experts’ comments and utilize their expertise, particularly with respect to the assessment of the flood barrier height for Oconee.”

GAP’s Legal Director Tom Devine noted another dimension to the whistleblowing dispute:

As dangerous as the safety hazard is for the public, it has been equally dangerous for Mr. Criscione to commit the truth by exposing it. When he asked for an internal investigation of the safety hazards, the NRC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) placed him under criminal investigation and grilled him for four hours seeking out those whom he had alerted in Congress about the issue. Despite the fact that no laws had been broken by Criscione or anyone else, the OIG referred him for criminal prosecution.

Mr. Criscione also commented on the OSC action:

It has been a very disappointing process.  Many reactor plants sited and constructed in the early 1970s would not be allowed to be built under today’s standards.  Whether these plants should be allowed to continue to operate is a complex political decision that needs to weigh the rights of the plant owners, the tax revenue and economic benefits to the local populations, and the risks to the public inherent to reactor plant operations. 

 Unfortunately, the NRC and other government agencies have been actively engaged in suppressing federal workers from transparently reporting the risks.  Scientific and technical determinations by government engineers should be honestly calculated and publicly shared. Instead, NRC management has been sidelining experienced and technically astute staff, replacing them with personalities more amenable to pleasing management at the expense of scientific integrity, neglecting to look into significant concerns, using speculative and abstract security concerns to scare staff into not discussing their technical concerns with trusted colleagues, and abusing exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act to keep internal dissention from becoming public. 

Science should be used to inform the political decisions; instead, scientific analyses are being manipulated and steered to support the political decisions.

Although the US Attorney immediately refused, the NRC has since paralyzed Mr. Criscione’s career, refusing promotion or reassignment. Criscione currently is challenging the retaliation through two lawsuits, under the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Energy Reorganization Act, which provides for jury trials.


Contact: Andrew Harman, Communications Director
Phone: 202.457.0034 x156
Email: [email protected]

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.


The following links contain documents pertaining to Mr. Criscione’s case.