Make us your home page

Report details drug and alcohol violations at U.S. nuclear plants

Drug and alcohol violations at U.S. nuclear plants increased from about one a month to almost one every week over the last five years, with a majority of cases in southeastern states, a new study has found.

A report by Vermont-based Fairewinds Energy Education set for release today cites dozens of violations reported to federal regulators each year from 2008 through 2013 that range from drinking alcohol in a "protected area" of the plant to positive tests for marijuana and cocaine.

The report notes several incidents at Florida nuclear power stations, including Duke Energy's shuttered Crystal River plant and Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point and St. Lucie facilities.

For instance, last November a contract supervisor at Crystal River tested positive for alcohol while another's access to the plant was terminated after the worker tried to enter with a "prohibited substance."

In June, a contract supervisor at FPL's Turkey Point plant was arrested off site for possession of a controlled substance. In April and June 2012, three contract supervisors at Turkey Point tested positive for illegal drugs.

"Ten percent of the people who get caught, test positive for cocaine," said Arnie Gundersen, a Fairewinds co-founder and developer of the study.

Gundersen, a nuclear engineer who worked at dozens of nuclear plants and now serves as a consultant on utility matters, said the growing incidence of drug and alcohol violations is disturbing because major nuclear accidents such as the one at Three Mile Island were in part the result of operator error.

"You're balancing dozens of things simultaneously," said Gundersen, a frequent critic of the nuclear industry. "Keeping all these balls in the air requires all your mental faculties."

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires plant operators to report drug and alcohol incidents involving workers, whether on or off site.

Roger Hannah, an NRC spokesman, said the commission had not seen the report but part of any increase in alcohol and drug incidents might be related to tougher standards implemented in 2008. He said the Southeast may have more cases because there are more nuclear plants than in other regions.

Regulators, Hannah said, are confident the NRC and plant owners "have a similar standard for ensuring that employees and contractors are not under the influence of any substance that may inhibit their ability to safely carry out their responsibilities."

Rita Sipe, a Duke Energy spokeswoman, said the utility had not seen the report and would not comment on specifics in it. But she said Duke has a policy of pre-employment drug and alcohol screenings, background investigations, random testing and other measures to ensure safety.

"Positive test results are not acceptable and violate our Fitness-for-Duty program," she said.

Michael Waldron, an FPL spokesman, said the drug and alcohol incidents are rare. But all workers "from plant operator to an administrative position needs to meet the same requirements as an airline pilot. We don't tolerate a violation of any of these standards regardless of whether it is an employee or contractor."

Report details drug and alcohol violations at U.S. nuclear plants 09/18/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 10:53am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Aramis Ayala defends stance against death penalty: 'I did what I believe was proper'

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Aramis Ayala, the elected Orlando prosecutor who refuses to seek the death penalty, defended her actions Wednesday as she faced a flurry of hostile questions from Florida Supreme Court justices.

    Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala, far right, said she was "very well pleased" with her lawyer's case. "I violated no laws." [STEVE BOUSQUET | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. Tampa Chamber of Commerce offers boost to black and Hispanic-owned businesses

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — There's a disconnect in Hillsborough County's minority business community.

    Gaston Meredith of Gaston's Culinary Services listens to LaKendria Robinson, Director of Minority Business Accelerator & Economic Inclusion during an information session at the Robert W. Saunders Library in Tampa on Tuesday.
[OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Wesley Chapel, Greater Pasco chambers of commerce merge


    LAND O'LAKES — Two chambers of commerce representing more than 850 business members from west Pasco to Wesley Chapel and New Tampa are merging into a single organization.

    Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Hope Allen will lead the combined chambers of commerce announced Wednesday. The yet-to-be-named chamber will represent more than 850 businesses that currenlty are members of the Greater Pasco and Greater Wesley Chapel chambers.
[JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  4. Sign up for our new daily News at Noon email newsletter


    The Tampa Bay Times will soon launch a daily newsletter called News at Noon. You can make sure to be among the first to receive it by signing up now.

  5. Bitcoin, ransomware fraudster Anthony Murgio of Tampa sentenced to prison


    Tampa's Anthony Murgio, 33, was sentenced Tuesday to 5-1/2 years in prison for running a bitcoin exchange suspected of laundering money for a group of hackers who targeted publishing and financial firms as part of a complex securities fraud.

    Anthony Murgio of Tampa, 33, was sentenced Tuesday to 5 1/2 years in prison for running a Bitcoin exchange suspected of laundering money for a group of hackers who targeted publishing and financial firms as part of a complex securities fraud. [AP photo]