Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fitness-for-Duty at Nuclear Power Plants:

News from Canada

A few weeks ago, I ran across a news item saying that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission was considering a random alcohol drug testing requirement for anyone with unescorted access to sensitive areas of a nuclear power plant.   

The news surprised me, because we instituted this policy in the United States years ago.  In fact, the rule was promulgated while I worked for Commissioner Kenneth Rogers at the NRC in the late 1980s, so I remember the discussions very well.

Although there was a great deal of concern about the drug-testing program at the time, to my knowledge, there have not been significant problems with it.  One of my biggest concerns had been the chance of false positives.  When the NRC implemented the program for its licensees, it also implemented an internal program.  I remember being told that foods with poppy seeds could cause a false positive.

The technical solution, of course, was a more sophisticated test that could distinguish everyday poppy seeds from their close cousin, opium.  However, in a briefing to those of us who were going to be in the random drug-testing program, an over-zealous staffer told us that, if we were subject to random drug testing, it would be advisable if we did not eat poppy seed bagels.  (And by the way, poppy seed bagels are hardly the biggest problem.  The number of poppy seeds on a poppy seed bagel pales in comparison to the number of poppy seeds in the poppy seed cakes that are popular among German-Americans and others.)  Well, I for one was not about to have my employer tell me what to eat and what not to eat.  Before that briefing, I happily ate any kind of bagel.  Ever since then, however, I choose poppy seed bagels whenever I can! 
All kidding aside, I am aware that cultural differences and other factors have caused countries to respond differently to concerns about the use of alcohol and drugs on the job.  While in that same position at NRC, I accompanied Commissioner Rogers on a trip to France.  One day, we were flown by helicopter to see a facility outside of Paris.  After the visit, we were flown to a restaurant in an old mansion on a large country estate.  The helicopter landed, and we were greeted on the patio with canapes and a glass of wine.  As I looked around, I noticed that the helicopter pilot and co-pilot also had glasses of wine in their hands!  Later, I asked what the rules were.  At the time, it was legal in France for a pilot to drink--but if there was an accident, he'd have the book thrown at him!

Fortunately, there wasn't an accident on our helicopter flight back to Paris, and fortunately, I guess, I was never drug tested at NRC after eating a poppy-seed bagel.

In any event, I want to assure our neighbors to the north that the flap over drug testing came and went in the US nuclear community, everyone adjusted, and the world is still safe for poppy seed bagels!



  1. Years back a coworker of mine at Indian Point ate a poppy-seed bagel for breakfast.He got picked that day for a random drug test. He came up positive on the test. He was sent down to Brooklyn to be examined and evaluated. Found out it was because of the poppy seed bagel. Con Edison made him sign a paper where he promised never to eat poppy-seed bagels. If this sounds odd to make matters worse they still sold poppy-seed bagel in the cafeteria!

  2. Now I will tell you my experience with random drug testing. I have a commercial drivers license. When the laws on CDL's changed backed in the 90's. I got picked for a random drug test for the DOT. Even though I worked at Indian Point nuclear power plant at the time, I was still given the cheaper random drug test. I had eaten a poppy seed bagel that morning. The test came back positive. I had to go down to Brooklyn be examined by a doctor checking between my fingers, behind my knees,between my toes for needle marks. I was asked questions and had to submit to another drug test before it was discovered that it was a false positive. The thing is when ever I go to another nuclear power plant to help out for an outage. The question always comes up, Have you ever tested positive on a drug test? To which I have to answer yes. Then I have to fill out a form and explain it over and over again. No matter how many times I have worked at the same plant it happens all the time.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. To: Anonymous, who submitted a comment on March 30, 2013:

    I initially posted your comment, then chose to remove it. In the first place, I am very selective about publishing anonymous comments. I rarely do so, and only do so when I feel the comment and my response would further the dialogue I am trying to maintain.

    In the second place, this particular comment asked me about the status of testing for one particular drug at one nuclear power plant. My focus is on broad policy issues. I seldom get into issues that are specific to one plant. Therefore, I considered the query inappropriate for this blog.

    In this particular case, if the reader sees this comment, I encourage the reader to contact the NRC or the plant named to raise the question.