The Defense Nuclear Safety Facilities Board (DNFSB) is urging its inspectors and staff to press their newly bolstered authority to inspect Department of Energy defense-nuclear sites, as codified by Congress last year.
Congress, at least in the board’s interpretation, used the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 to short-circuit DOE Order 140.1, which was written by then-Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, who in December became Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette.
In the May 2018 directive, DOE said the DNFSB could not include DOE contractors and employees in board safety recommendations, that certain DOE facilities were off-limits to board inspectors, and that Energy Department personnel could only talk to the board after receiving direction from headquarters about what to say.
Congress, however, modified the Atomic Energy Act to clarify that “there are no exceptions to Board’s right of access” to DOE sites and personnel, with the continuing exception of those working at naval nuclear reactor sites, the board wrote in the memo. All three serving DNFSB board members, Chairman Bruce Hamilton, Joyce Connery, and Jessie HIll Roberson, approved the document on March 19. The memo was made public this week.
The memo tells DNFSB inspectors and staff that Congress’ recent changes to the law confirms the DNFSB’s legal mandate “includes public employees and contractors at defense nuclear facilities,” and that board personnel may inspect “all defense nuclear facilities regardless of hazard categorization.”
Order 140.1 said the DNFSB should not inspect facilities designated as Hazard Category 3, which in the Energy Department’s opinion contain no hazards that could reach the boundaries of facility.
Congress created the DNFSB in 1989 to make health and safety recommendations for DOE defense nuclear sites, active and shuttered, with which the secretary of energy must publicly agree or disagree. The board is about a $30-million-a-year agency with around 100 full-time staff, a fraction of which work in the field.
The Energy Department, meanwhile, has finished a draft revision of Order 140.1. The DNFSB has said these revisions, which are not yet public, satisfy some of its concerns bout the at times tumultuous relationship between the two federal agencies. Besides revising Order 140.1, the DNFSB wants to a bilateral memorandum of understanding with DOE that cements the board’s access to facilities and personnel.