Nuclear Workers May Be Picked by Plants

THE Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering allowing the country's 107 nuclear power plants to take over the task of examining candidates to be nuclear-reactor operators.

The move would save the NRC between $3 million and $4 million a year in hiring workers to prepare, conduct, and grade these exams.

But consumer advocates are concerned that this would lower standards for reactor operators. They maintain that the electric utilities that run the plants would not strictly test their own employees.

The plan safeguards against that, NRC spokeswoman Beth Hayden said Saturday. ''We're not lock, stock and barrel turning everything over,'' she said.

The NRC, the government agency charged with industry oversight, would retain final approval of the employee's license to operate a reactor, would pre-approve the company's examination, and could veto all the results, Ms. Hayden says.

The NRC plan comes amid pressure from the Clinton administration and the new Republican-controlled Congress for government agencies to save money by turning some of their functions over to the private sector.

NRC commissioners have until the end of the day today to object to the proposal. If they don't, the NRC will begin accepting public comment on the program and start pilot examinations to see how well the idea works, Hayden says.

The program wouldn't operate fully until October 1997.

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