The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has discovered what it feels is an alarming trend: the number of employes at nuclear power plants arrested or fired for drug-related incidents has increased substantially over the past three years. In 1979 there was one incident, in 1980 there were five and in 1981, 12. Marijuana was the drug involved most frequently, but incidents involving cocaine, amphetamines, hashish, phencyclidine and methaqualone were also reported. The incidents involved the use or possession of drugs at work and employes reporting to work under the influence of drugs.

The NRC has proposed that utilities operating nuclear power reactors be required to set up a system "to assure" that employes who can enter high-security areas alone are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol or "otherwise unfit for duty." That last phrase would require utilities to consider factors such as fatigue, stress, illness and temporary physical impairments when determining an employe's fitness. Specific tests would be left to the individual utility, but the NRC is requesting comments on the use of breath and psychological tests, behavioral observation and background investigations.

Sylvia Krekel, an occupational health specialist with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union, said, "We recognize the need to deal with" the problem, but she said any screening program should be developed by labor and management. Krekel called the "otherwise unfit for duty" clause "a gigantic loophole. It could be a very punitive tool for an employer who is mad at somebody." She said she was particularly concerned about the possible misuse of psychological tests, behavioral observation and background investigations.