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Thursday, August 8, 2013 - 2:59pm

Feds Put Georgia Inspectors On Probation

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has placed on probation a state-run office in Georgia that oversees the use of radioactive materials at hospitals, research centers and industrial sites, authorities said Thursday.

The decision marked the first time the NRC has placed a state-run inspection program on probation.

Georgia and 36 other states have entered agreements with the NRC allowing them to license and regulate people and companies that use nuclear materials. The oversight of nuclear power plants remains a responsibility of the federal government.

NRC spokeswoman Maureen Conley said auditors found inadequate staffing in a 2008 review and, more recently, weaknesses in training and qualification programs. NRC officials who reviewed the program four years later said they found that performance had gotten worse. Among the problems was a failure by state inspectors to respond promptly to incidents and prioritize inspections based on the level of potential harm posed by radioactive materials.

"There was no immediate threat to public health and safety," Conley said. "If the program had not taken steps to make improvements, there was the potential that public health and safety might be impacted."

EPD Director Judson Turner said he has hired a new leader for the inspection group, increased its staffing and raised the cost of inspection fees to better fund the program. Turner said the unit has reduced a backlog of overdue inspections. He said none of the problems posed a safety threat for the public.

"I wish they didn't feel the need to go on probation because I feel like we're on the mend," Turner said.