PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given the operator of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station permission to work its employees 16 hours per day and as many as 86 hours in a week, according to a letter from the NRC obtained by CBS 5 Investigates.

"Palo Verde Generating Station requested and received this exemption from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission early and proactively so that the option to modify work hours is immediately available in response to an extreme circumstance. Work schedules are not changing at this time, nor is a change imminent," stated Jill Hanks in an email. She is a senior communications consultant at APS.

According to Hanks, the company has not seen an increase in absenteeism up to this point in time.

The exemption from the NRC also allows the company to require employees to work 12 hour days for up to 14 days without a day off.

The NRC found that "there is no undue risk to public health and safety from granting the requested exemption," according to the letter.

But environmentalists, like Steve Brittle from Don't Waste Arizona, say they don't think exemptions like these are a good idea. "All of the money this industry has, this is the best they can do?" said Brittle.

He said he only found out about the changes because of a standing records request he has on file with the NRC. "Government agencies as well as potential polluters - they all need to have somebody watching over them," said Brittle.

The NRC has granted similar exemptions to other nuclear reactors across the country and allowed some facilities to postpone scheduled maintenance. Environmental groups warn that reducing maintenance, worker's protections, and oversight could lead to accidents.

Morgan Loew's hard-hitting investigations can be seen weekdays on CBS 5 News at 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.

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