Chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board: Who Is Sean Sullivan?

Friday, May 12, 2017
Sean Sullivan

Sean Sullivan, a former naval officer who spent much of his career working on nuclear-powered submarines, was appointed by President Donald Trump on January 26, 2017, to chair the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB). Sullivan had previously been appointed in 2012 by former President Barack Obama as a member of the board. Established in 1988, the DNFSB monitors the nation’s nuclear facilities and advises the Department of Energy on their management, including decommissioning and cleanup.


Sullivan was born November 30, 1958, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His home-state senator, Lowell Weicker (R), appointed him to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976. Sullivan graduated in 1980 with a B.S. in marine engineering. In 2002, he earned an M.A. in national security affairs from the Naval War College.


Sullivan’s first shipboard assignment was to the USS Plunger, a nuclear-powered attack submarine. After that, he returned to the Naval Academy as an instructor, and then was assigned to another attack boat, the USS Chicago.


Sullivan worked his way up to become executive officer, or second in command, on the USS Maryland, a ballistic missile sub. After that, he got his first taste of politics when he was sent to Washington as deputy director of the House of Representatives Navy Legislative Liaison Office. In 1996, Sullivan returned to the sea as captain of the USS Jefferson City, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine.


In 1999 Sullivan returned to shore duty, with his career culminating with an assignment beginning in 2004 as the commander of the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut. He retired from the Navy in 2006 with the rank of captain.


While ending his time in the Navy, Sullivan was preparing for his second career, earning his J.D. from the University of Connecticut in 2006. He worked as a civil litigation attorney for Brown Jacobson, a law firm in Norwich, Connecticut.


Sullivan began his own political career in 2008, when he ran as a Republican for a congressional seat from Eastern Connecticut. He called for an end to the Iraq War, but opposed setting a date for U.S. troops to withdraw. He also called for increased spending for renewable energy, biofuels, fuel cells and nuclear power. His Democratic opponent, Joseph Courtney, had won his first term by only 83 votes, but roughed up Sullivan two years later, winning by a 2-to-1 margin. Sullivan found success in electoral politics the following year, when he won a seat on the Ledyard Town Council. In 2010, Sullivan ran for state senate, calling for deep spending cuts in the state budget and privatizing some social service programs, but lost by 802 votes to the 13-term incumbent, 84-year-old Edith Prague.


In 2011, Sullivan moved back into the world of submarines when he became a partner in Sonalysts, which supported the Navy’s development of its next ballistic missile submarine class.


He worked there until 2012, when he was first appointed to the DNFSB, and resigned from the Ledyard Town Council at that time as well.


Sullivan and his wife, Sharon, have four children: Amy, Kelley, Casey and Max.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Official Biography (pdf)


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