WASHINGTON — Staff members at an elite training school allegedly cheated on tests administered to personnel who train other sailors to operate nuclear reactors that power Navy submarines, Navy officials said Tuesday.
Answers to a written qualification propulsion exam were allegedly shared among some instructors at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command near Charleston, S.C., Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, told reporters at the Pentagon.
The staff members accused of cheating were required to pass the test in order to qualify to instruct students on the training reactors. None of the students at the school appear to have been involved, Adm. John Richardson, the director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, told reporters.
The allegations came to light Monday when a senior enlisted sailor at the school was approached by at least one sailor involved in the cheating.
“One of our sailors from the Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston, S.C., was offered to compromise his integrity, recognized that this was wrong, and reported it to the command.” Richardson said.
“To say that I’m disappointed would be an understatement. Whenever I hear about integrity issues, it’s disruptive to our units’ success and it’s definitely contrary to all of our core values,” Greenert said.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Training Command are investigating. The tests and the operation of the reactors involve access to classified material, Richardson said.
“I assure you if these allegations are substantiated … we will hold the appropriate people accountable,” Greenert said. “We will remain vigilant throughout the program.”
Richardson said punishment would be meted out on a case-by-case basis, but such behavior would likely result in removal from the program and possibly removal from the Navy.
The training reactors were shut down for routine maintenance when the allegations came to light. All personnel implicated so far have been removed from the site and their access has been revoked. As a precaution, all other personnel at the school who have access to the reactors are being retested to validate their knowledge, and extra supervision has been assigned to the operating teams. Richardson will not authorize re-operation of the reactors until he is satisfied that appropriate corrective actions have been taken, he told reporters.
Richard would not say precisely how many sailors have been sidelined while the investigation is ongoing, but a Navy official told Stars and Stripes that about 30 engineering watch supervisors have been removed.
Richardson said the investigation has just begun and it’s too soon to tell how many were involved, but he believes the number will be less than 160 — or 1 percent of the 16,000 personnel in the Navy nuclear propulsion program. Richardson did not say how he arrived at that number.
The alleged cheating was centered on propulsion reactors and is not related to nuclear weapons, Richardson said.
A team from Richardson’s headquarters is in Charleston now and will assess the command climate to determine if there are broader problems at the school.
Despite the alleged cheating, Richardson is confident that Naval reactors throughout the fleet are being operated safely because sailors have to pass many layers of testing to pass their evaluations and qualify to operate the reactors.
The last comparable Navy cheating incident occurred in 2010 when the discovery of a cheating ring aboard the USS Memphis submarine led to the firing of the ship’s commanding officer and the ouster of 10 percent of its crew.