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U.S. Navy Probes Test-Cheating at Nuclear Reactor School

Chief of Naval Operations Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Navy Adm. John Richardson, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, brief reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday about a recently uncovered test-cheating ring suspected at an atomic-reactor training school in South Carolina. Chief of Naval Operations Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Navy Adm. John Richardson, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, brief reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday about a recently uncovered test-cheating ring suspected at an atomic-reactor training school in South Carolina. (U.S. Defense Department photo)

The U.S. Navy on Tuesday announced it had opened an investigation into accusations of widespread cheating by sailors on nuclear-reactor certification exams.

The allegations involve senior sailors sharing answers on tests they needed to pass if they were to become trainers at an atomic-propulsion instruction center in Charleston, S.C., the Associated Press reported. The school trains personnel to run the nuclear reactors that power submarines and the Navy's biggest warships.

The reactors are unrelated to the nuclear-armed Trident ballistic missiles carried by Ohio-class vessels. The roughly 30 sailors initially swept up in the Navy probe do not have any nuclear-weapon duties.

The implicated sailors have been removed temporarily from their nuclear-propulsion training duties.

"To say I am disappointed would be an understatement," Chief of Naval Operations Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert said at a Pentagon press conference. "We expect more from our sailors -- especially our senior sailors."

An unidentified official said the test answers were swapped from sailors' personal computers, another possible breach of security regulations as atomic-reactor details are classified.

"That'll be an active part of the investigation to fully understand" the breadth of security regulation breaches, Navy Adm. John Richardson, head of the service's nuclear-propulsion program, told reporters.

The Navy investigation is distinct from an ongoing Air Force probe into cheating by dozens of nuclear-missile launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. Largely as a result of that and other recently uncovered professional lapses in the missileer corps., U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a thorough assessment of personnel problems associated with both the Navy and Air Force nuclear-weapons missions.

The alleged Navy test-taking misconduct came to light on Monday after an enlisted sailor who had been invited to join in the cheating instead informed higher officials, Richardson said. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service continues to look into the issue.

Former and current Air Force launch-control officers have said pressure from senior officers to achieve a 100 percent score on certification exams is a big factor in the test-cheating, which they said was endemic across the service's intercontinental ballistic missile crews.

Richardson said there is no similar pressure at play in the nuclear-propulsion trainer tests, Foreign Policy reported.

"With respect to the morale ... the necessity to pass these exams in order to advance, that's not really a dimension in our program," the admiral said. "We do not have that kind of 90 percent and above type of dynamic in our program."

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