[ RadSafe ] US Nuclear sub crew faked inspection records

Peterson, Ken KPeterson at MarinetteMarine.com
Wed Oct 24 12:03:46 CDT 2007

I find it hard to believe they didn't take a primary coolant sample for a month.  More likely a piece of analytical equipment broke and they didn't do one of the redundant tests.

Ken Peterson


New details on submarine cover-up

By Gidget Fuentes and Andrew Scutro - Staff writers
Posted : Tuesday Oct 23, 2007 18:20:32 EDT

Nuclear personnel aboard the submarine Hampton have been punished for lax safety procedures and for forging log books to cover their tracks, according to sources familiar with the ongoing investigation.

The accusations are already sending shockwaves through the tight-knit Navy nuclear community, which prides itself on its devotion to nuclear safety rules and regulations.

So far, one officer and five enlisted sailors have received nonjudicial punishment following a preliminary investigation, but a broader Judge Advocate General’s Manual investigation is underway, said Lt. Alli Myrick, spokeswoman for Submarine Squadron 11, which oversees the Hampton.

The nature of the punishments has not been disclosed, but the six have all been reassigned to the squadron, she said.

Hampton completed an overseas deployment Sept. 17. The transgressions were discovered during the boat’s transit to Naval Base Point Loma, Calif., its new home port. It hasn’t moved since docking.

“Right now, it’s not leaving the pier, it’s not getting underway,” Myrick said.

Hampton’s skipper, Cmdr. Mike Portland, was still in command as of Oct. 19, Myrick said. Executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Chad Hennings and chief of the boat Master Chief Yeoman (SS) Tim Baisley were also still assigned to the sub, she said.

Navy officials declined to discuss the investigation because it is not complete. It was ordered by squadron commander Capt. Chip Jaenichen after “issues” surfaced while the submarine and squadron were preparing for a normal end-of-deployment examination, Myrick said.

“During a routine review ... [the crew’s] conduct of procedures, although found to be safe, fell short of high Navy standards,” Submarine Squadron 11 officials said in a release Myrick provided to Navy Times.

Those “standards” relate broadly to operations, record keeping, training and qualifications, she said.

Once the investigation is complete, it is possible additional crew members could be implicated and further discipline may follow. Myrick declined to speculate.

Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, said the sailors involved “clearly fell short of the rigorous standards that we set. But never in any way did that conduct result in an unsafe situation.”

According to one source with knowledge of the investigation, the central problem involves how often sailors analyzed the chemical and radiological properties of the submarine’s reactor, which is typically checked daily.

During preparations for the boat’s Operational Reactor Safeguard Examination, which is typically conducted as a nuclear submarine ends its deployment, officials discovered that the sailors hadn’t checked the water in at least a month, and their division officer, the chemistry/radiological controls assistant, knew it, the source said.

They also learned that the logs had been forged — or “radioed,” in submarine parlance — later to cover up the lapse and make it look as though the sailors had been keeping up with required checks all along.

Failure to maintain proper chemistry controls could lead to long-term corrosion in the system, the source said. “The reason you maintain water chemistry within certain parameters is to prevent corrosion. But we measure also for general radioactivity levels in the water to make sure the reactor [fuel elements are] intact.”

A retired submarine commander described the rigorous process this way:

“As the sampling is done and analyzed, it’s checked by the watch standers in the propulsion plant so they can take any actions the samples indicate. That’s the first echelon. Second, they are exhaustively reviewed by the ship’s chain of command — the lead [engineering lab technician], the CRA and the engineer. All review these on a frequent basis — daily, weekly, monthly. And then the captain and the XO periodically review them as well.

“That is the ship’s chain of command. The third echelon is outside monitors and inspection teams, the squadron and [Naval Reactors] who sends monitors to the boat at any and all hours. Those guys don’t give you notice; they just wake you up at 2 a.m. to tell you they’re already on the boat. Having your chem levels out of whack is a good way to get into trouble.”

That this process was apparently completely ignored shocked the former commander.

“I’m outraged,” he said. “It’s incredible in the full sense of the word, as in, this isn’t to be believed. I’m having a hard time getting my mind around it. The system, by design and practice, is very closely woven and densely packed with people to make sure that it’s done right the first time.”

Referring to the chemical levels, another former submarine commander added: “It’s not that it’s dangerous at the instant. Blowing off the chem sample that day isn’t what’s dangerous, but the operational philosophy adopted by people who would do that, if applied to the other aspects of operating the nuclear propulsion plant watch stations or other aspects of the submarine, could be dangerous. That’s what’s scary. Besides, why the hell wouldn’t you check the chem levels? First, that’s the ELT and the CRA’s job. Second, it takes about an hour and a half each day to do it. Third, you’re on a submarine, so it’s not like you’re going to get away with doing nothing on your free time.”

Although there is no evidence at this stage that the problem goes beyond the Hampton, the source familiar with the investigation said it will prompt further examination throughout the community. “Because once you see the problem once, you have to assume it exists in other places.”

Davis said that, although the investigation is still ongoing, “we have absolutely no reason to believe that this is a fleetwide problem.”

When asked about the sailors’ motivation, the source replied that it was probably “laziness.”

Concern has reached all the way to Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion, the source said. “They know what happened and who was complicit,” he said.

Discussion has already begun on submarine-related blogs.

“We all heard what happened and it is quite bad. This is going to be a ripple effect hitting everyone. Standby if you know what I’m saying. I’ve gotten all my stuff dug through twice already this month,” wrote an anonymous poster on the blog at http://bubbleheads.blogspot.com.

Portland took command of the submarine Aug. 3, 2005. Most recently, the submarine spent seven months at sea on deployment, which included two major exercises and an “emergent” deployment to the 7th Fleet region. “Emergent” usually means unplanned. At the end of the deployment, the boat marked its official homeport change, from Norfolk, Va., to Point Loma.

This year, 10 commanding officers spanning different communities have been fired for a variety of reasons, some for accidents, others for command climate or lapses in judgment.

Ken Peterson

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