US Navy officials announced Tuesday that one out of every five nuclear reactor operators at a training center in Charleston, South Carolina would be decertified due to allegations they cheated on qualification tests in a scandal that continues to grow.
Staff members at the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program in Charleston are accused of sharing information about a test on reactor operations amongst themselves. Approximately 30 of the 150 qualified operators in Charleston have been decertified, a Navy official told The Hill, and the Navy has launched an investigation into the matter that some say is likely to expand.
No current students are thought to be involved in the scandal.
“This incident involves members of the school staff who are required to qualify to operate and instruct students on the training reactor,” said Admiral John Richardson, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.
He refused to disclose what information is thought to have been shared but added “it’s fair to say that these exams and the operation of the plants do involve classified information and that will be an active part of the investigation to fully understand that.”
Navy officials maintained that the propulsion systems are not related in any way to nuclear weapons. Two nuclear reactors are used to train sailors for duty on board a submarine or aircraft carrier that uses propulsion to travel around the world.
The sailors in question passed operations training at the Charleston base before deploying on a nuclear-powered vessel abroad, according to the Associated Press. They then returned to the training center planning to work as instructors for new recruits, a position that requires a certification test. It is this examination, which includes oral and written components, they allegedly cheated on.
Richardson said authorities first recognized the problem when a senior enlisted sailor “recognized that this was wrong” and decided to report the cheating.
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, told reporters assembled at a Pentagon news conference Tuesday that the matter is still under investigation.
“To say I am disappointed would be an understatement,” he said. “We expect more from our sailors – especially our senior sailors.”
The allegations come after 34 Air Force officers at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana were ensnared earlier this month in an unrelated cheating scandal. The nearly three dozen nuclear command officers either cheated on a proficiency exam or knew that others cheated and failed to report the misconduct.
These officers, unlike those involved in the South Carolina case, were responsible for the safety of nuclear missiles stored in Montana. Nearly 20 percent of the 190 officers charged with overseeing the readiness of the weapons were caught up in the scandal.
However, the news out of Charleston also comes as the Navy seeks to put a number of other corruption cases behind them.
Multiple officials were suspended at the end of 2013 when accusations surfaced that they had provided information about ship movements and other details to a military contractor in exchange for cash and prostitutes. Yet another situation involves officers’ ties to a mechanic who charged the Navy over one million dollars to develop weapons parts that cost only thousands to manufacture.