Participants in an ongoing radiation monitoring project use Geiger counters to detect radioactivity on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation downstream from abandoned uranium mines and proposed new yellow cake production in the Black Hills for the nuclear industry. Photo courtesy Andy Johnson
Environment | National

Native Sun News Today: Audit faults tribal consultation at nuclear agency

Inspector General orders better consultation with tribes on uranium, nuclear permits

By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor

WASHINGTON - An April 4 order from an Office of the Inspector General gives the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) 30 days to respond to recommendations for upholding federal government-to-government consulting commitments with tribes.

The order comes as tribes across the Inter Mountain West remain locked in a struggle to gain federal respect for their rights to consultation on permits for radioactive uranium mining, milling, and hazardous waste disposal from nuclear power and weapons production under the NRC’s purview.

The recommendations are the outcome of an internal audit by the NRC’s Office of the Inspector General “to determine whether NRC fulfills its tribal outreach and consultation responsibilities and requirements.”

The audit found that NRC staff lacks knowledge of tribes and related history, which deters effective communication and increases probability of lawsuits detrimental to both parties, as well as to private projects in the nuclear industry.

The Inspector General’s Office recommended NRC staff clearly define the roles and responsibilities of its Federal, State, and Tribal Liaison Branch, establish qualifications for branch employees and training requirements for other NRC staff, update internal guidance so that the branch is involved when conducting tribal outreach or consultation, and direct sufficient resources toward outreach and consultation.

The branch is part of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards. Instead of utilizing employees of the branch, NRC project managers customarily forge ahead on their own with the National Historic Preservation Act’s Section 106 requirement for tribal consultation on cultural resources, according to the audit.

“Some project managers expressed apprehension” over branch knowledge or experience, the audit found. “Others admitted they, too, have limited knowledge of tribes,” it says.

“NRC’s project managers are primarily engineers who have backgrounds in areas such as nuclear engineering, electrical engineering, and health physics. They generally are not experts on tribes, cultural land resources, or archaeology,” it continues.

“Without knowledge of tribal history, project managers may not identify and contact the correct tribes for consultation. As one project manager said, ‘Identifying tribes is more complex than it sounds’.”

Office of Inspector General Report:
Audit of NRC’s Consultation Practices With Federally Recognized Native American Tribal Governments (April 4, 2018)

Contact Talli Nauman at

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