Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Foolproof by Greg Ip: Insights for the Nuclear Industry

This book* is primarily about systemic lessons learned from the 2008 U.S. financial crisis and, to a lesser extent, various European euro crises. Some of the author’s observations also apply to the nuclear industry.

Ip’s overarching thesis is that steps intended to protect a system, e.g., a national or global financial system, may over time lead to over-confidence, increased risk-taking and eventual instability.  Stability breeds complacency.**  As we know, a well-functioning system creates a series of successful outcomes, a line of dynamic non-events.  But that dynamic includes gradual changes to the system, e.g., innovation or adaptation to the environment, that may increase systemic risk and result in a new crisis or unintended consequences

He sees examples that evidence his thesis in other fields.  For automobiles, the implementation of anti-lock braking systems leads some operators to drive more recklessly.  In football, better helmets mean increased use of the head as a weapon and more concussions and spinal injuries.  For forest fires, a century of fire suppression has led to massive fuel build-ups and more people moving into forested areas.  For flood control, building more and higher levees has led to increased economic development in historically flood-prone areas.  As a result, both fires and floods can have huge financial losses when they eventually occur.  In all cases, well-intentioned system “improvements” lead to increased confidence (aka loss of fear) and risk-taking, both obvious and implicit.  In short, “If the surroundings seem safer, the systems tolerate more risk.” (p. 18)

Ip uses the nuclear industry to illustrate how society can create larger issues elsewhere in a system when it effects local responses to a perceived problem.  Closing down nuclear plants after an accident (e.g., Fukushima) or because of green politics does not remove the demand for electric energy.  To the extent the demand shortfall is made up with hydrocarbons, additional people will suffer from doing the mining, drilling, processing, etc. and the climate will be made worse.

He cites the aviation industry as an example of a system where near-misses are documented and widely shared in an effort to improve overall system safety.  He notes that the few fatal accidents that occur in commercial aviation serve both as lessons learned and keep those responsible for operating the system (pilots and controllers) on their toes.

He also makes an observation about aviation that could be applied to the nuclear industry: “It is almost impossible to improve a system that never has an accident. . . . regulators are unlikely to know whether anything they propose now will have provable benefits; it also means that accidents will increasingly be of the truly mysterious, unimaginable variety . . .” (p. 252)

Speaking of finance, Ip says “A huge part of what the financial system does is try to create the fact—and at times the illusion—of safety.  Usually, it succeeds; . . . On those rare occasions when it fails, the result is panic.” (p. 86)  Could this description also apply to the nuclear industry? 

Our Perspective

Ip’s search for systemic, dynamic factors to explain the financial crisis echoes the type of analysis we’ve been promoting for years.  Like us, he recognizes that people hold different world views of the same system.  Ip contrasts the engineers and the ecologists:  “Engineers satisfy our desire for control, . . . civilization’s needs to act, to do something, . . .” (p. 278)  Ecologists believe “it’s the nature of risk to find the vulnerabilities we missed, to hit when least expected, to exploit the very trust in safety we so assiduously cultivate with all our protection . . .” (p. 279)

Ip’s treatment of the nuclear industry, while positive, is incomplete and somewhat simplistic.  It’s really just an example, not an industry analysis.  His argument that shutting down nuclear plants exacerbates climate harm could have come from the NEI playbook.  He ignores the impact of renewables, efficiency and conservation.

He doesn’t discuss the nuclear industry’s penchant for secrecy, but we have and believe it feeds the public’s uncertainty about the industry's safety.  As Ip notes, “People who crave certainty cannot tolerate even a slight increase in uncertainty, and so they flee not just the bad banks, the bad paper, and the bad country, but everything that resembles them, . . .” (p. 261)  If a system that is assumed [or promoted] to be safe has a crisis, even a local one, the result is often panic. (p. 62)

He mentions high reliability organizations (HROs) focusing on their avoiding catastrophe and “being a little bit scared all of the time.” (p. 242)  He does not mention that some of the same systemic factors of the financial system are at work in the world of HROs, including exposure to the corrosive effects of complacency and system drift. (p. 242)

Bottom line: Read Foolproof if you have an interest in an intelligible assessment of the financial crisis.  And remember: “Fear serves a purpose: it keeps us out of trouble.” (p. 19)  “. . . but it can keep us from taking risks that could make us better off.” (p. 159)

*  G. Ip, Foolproof (New York: Little, Brown, 2015).  Ip is a finance and economics journalist, currently with the Wall Street Journal and previously with The Economist.

**  He quotes a great quip from Larry Summers: “Complacency is a self-denying prophecy.”  Ip adds, “If everyone worried about complacency, no one would succumb to it.” (p.263)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cultural Tidbits from McKinsey

We spent a little time poking around the McKinsey* website looking for items that could be related to safety culture and found a couple.  They do not provide any major insights but they do spur us to think of some questions for you to ponder about your own organization.

One article discussed organizational redesign** and provided a list of recommended rules, including establishing metrics that show if success is being achieved.  Following is one such metric.

“One utility business decided that the key metric for its efficiency-driven redesign was the cost of management labor as a proportion of total expenditures on labor.  Early on, the company realized that the root cause of its slow decision-making culture and high cost structure had been the combination of excessive management layers and small spans of control.  Reviewing the measurement across business units and at the enterprise level became a key agenda item at monthly leadership meetings.” (p. 107)

What percent of total labor dollars does your organization spend on “management”?  Could your organization’s decision making be speeded up without sacrificing quality or safety?  Would your organization rather have the “right” decision (even if it takes a long time to develop) or no decision at all rather than risk announcing a “wrong” one?

A second article discussed management actions to create a longer view among employees,*** including clearly identifying and prioritizing organizational values.  Following is an example of action related to values.

“The pilots of one Middle East–based airline frequently write incident reports that candidly raise concerns, questions, and observations about potential hazards.  The reports are anonymous and circulate internally, so that pilots can learn from one another and improve—say, in handling a particularly tricky approach at an airport or dealing with a safety procedure.  The resulting conversations reinforce the safety culture of this airline and the high value it places on collaboration.  Moreover, by making sure that the reporting structures aren’t punitive, the airline’s executives get better information and can focus their attention where it’s most needed.”

How do your operators and other professionals share experiences and learning opportunities among themselves at your site?  How about throughout your fleet?  Does documenting anything that might be construed as weakness require management review or approval?  Is management (or the overall organization) so fearful of such information being seen by regulators or the public, or discovered by lawyers, that the information is effectively suppressed?  Is your organization paranoid or just applying good business sense?  Do you have a culture that would pass muster as “just”?

Our Perspective

Useful nuggets on management or culture are where you find them.  Others’ experiences can stimulate questions; the answers can help you better understand local organizational phenomena, align your efforts with the company’s needs and build your professional career.

*  McKinsey & Company is a worldwide management consulting firm.

**  S. Aronowitz et al, “Getting organizational redesign right,” McKinsey Quarterly, no. 3 (2015), pp. 99-109.

***  T. Gibbs et al, “Encouraging your people to take the long view,” McKinsey Quarterly (Sept. 2012).

Monday, October 12, 2015

IAEA International Conference on Operational Safety, including Safety Culture

IAEA Building
Back in June, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) hosted an International Conference on Operational Safety.*  Conference sessions covered Peer Reviews, Corporate Management, Post-Fukushima Improvements, Operating Experience, Leadership and Safety Culture and Long Term Operation.  Later, the IAEA published a summary of conference highlights, including conclusions in the session areas.**  It reported the following with respect to safety culture (SC):

“No organization works in isolation: the safety culture of the operator is influenced by the safety culture of the regulator and vice versa. Everything the regulator says or does not say has an effect on the operator. The national institutions and other cultural factors affect the regulatory framework. Corporate leadership is integral to achieving and improving safety culture, the challenge here is that regulators are not always allowed to conduct oversight at the corporate management level.”

Whoa!  This is an example of the kind of systemic thinking that we have been preaching for years.  We wondered who said that so we reviewed all the SC presentations looking for clues.  Perhaps not surprisingly, it was a bit like gold-mining: one has to crush a lot of ore to find a nugget.

Most of the ore for the quote was provided by a SC panelist who was not one of the SC speakers but a Swiss nuclear regulator (and the only regulator mentioned in the SC session program).  Her slide bullets included “The regulatory body needs to take different perspectives on SC: SC as an oversight issue, impact of oversight on licensees’ SC, the regulatory body’s own SC, [and] Self-reflection on its own SC.”  Good advice to regulators everywhere.

As far as we can tell, no presenter made the point that regulators seldom have the authority to oversee corporate management; perhaps that arose during the subsequent discussion.

SC Presentations

The SC presentations contained hearty, although standard fare.  A couple were possibly more revealing, which we’ll highlight later.

The German, Japanese and United Kingdom presentations reviewed their respective SC improvement plans.  In general these plans are focused on specific issues identified during methodical diagnostic investigations.  The plan for the German Philippsburg plant focuses on specific management responsibilities, personnel attitudes and conduct at all hierarchy levels, and communications.  The Japanese plan concentrates on continued recovery from the Fukushima disaster.  TEPCO company-wide issues include Safety awareness, Engineering capability and Communication ability.  The slides included a good system dynamics-type model.  At EDF’s Heysham 2 in the UK, the interventions are aimed at improving management (leadership, decision-making), trust (just culture) and organizational learning.  As a French operator of a UK plant, EDF recognizes they must tune interventions to the local organization’s core values and beliefs.

The United Arab Emirates presentation described a model for their new nuclear organization; the values, traits and attributes come right out of established industry SC guidelines.

The Entergy presenter parroted the NRC/INPO party line on SC definition, leadership responsibility, traits, attributes and myriad supporting activities.  It’s interesting to hear such bold talk from an SC-challenged organization.  Maybe INPO or the NRC “encouraged” him to present at the conference.  (The NRC is not shy about getting licensees with SC issues to attend the Regulatory Information Conference and confess their sins.)

The Russian presentation consisted of a laundry list of SC improvement activities focused on leadership, personnel reliability, observation and cross-cultural factors (for Hanhikivi 1 in Finland).  It was all top-down.  There was nothing about empowering or taking advantage of individuals’ knowledge or experience.  You can make your own inferences.

Management Presentations

We also reviewed the Management sessions for further clues.  All the operator presenters were European and they had similar structures, with “independent” safety performance advisory groups at the plant, fleet and corporate levels.  They all appeared to focus on programmatic strengths and weaknesses in the safety performance area.  There was no indication any of the groups opined on management performance.  The INPO presenter noted that SC is included in every plant and corporate evaluation and SC issues are highlighted in the INPO Executive Summary to a CEO.

Our Perspective

The IAEA press release writer did a good job of finding appealing highlights to emphasize.  The actual presentations were more ordinary and about what you’d expect from anything involving IAEA: build the community, try to not offend anyone.  For example, the IAEA SC presentation stressed the value in developing a common international SC language but acknowledged that different industry players and countries can have their own specific needs.

Bottom line: Read the summary and go to the conference materials if something piques your interest—but keep your expectations modest.

*  International Atomic Energy Agency, International Conference on Operational Safety, June 23-26, 2015, Vienna.

**  IAEA press release, “Nuclear Safety is a Continuum, not a Final Destination” (July 3, 2015).

Friday, October 2, 2015

Training Materials for Teaching NRC Personnel about Safety Culture

This is a companion piece to our Aug. 24, 2015 post on how the NRC effectively regulates licensee safety culture (SC) in the absence of any formal SC regulations.  This post summarizes a set of NRC slides* for training inspectors on SC basics and how to integrate SC information and observations into inspection reports.

The slides begin with an overview of SC, material you’ve seen countless times.  It includes the Chernobyl and Davis-Besse events, the Schein tri-level model and a timeline of SC-related activities at the NRC.

The bulk of the presentation shows how SC is related to and incorporated in the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP).  The starting point is the NRC SC Policy Statement, followed by the Common Language Initiative** which defined 10 SC traits.  The traits are connected to the ROP using 23 SC aspects.  Aspects are “the important characteristics of safety culture which are observable to the NRC staff during inspection and assessment of licensee performance” (p. 13)  Each SC aspect is associated with one of the ROP’s 3 cross-cutting areas: Human Performance (14 aspects), Problem Identification and Resolution (6 aspects) and Safety Conscious Work Environment (3 aspects).  During supplemental and reactive inspections there are an additional 12 SC aspects to be considered.  Each aspect has associated artifacts that indicate the aspect’s presence or absence.  SC aspects can contribute to a cross-cutting theme or, in more serious cases, a substantive cross-cutting issue (SCCI).***

The integration of SC findings into inspection reports is covered in NRC Inspection Manual Chapter 0612 and NINE different NRC Inspection Procedures (IPs). (p. 30)  In practice, the logic chain between a SC aspect and an inspection report is the reverse of the description in the preceding paragraph.  The creation of an inspection report starts with a finding followed by a search for a related SC cross-cutting aspect.  Each finding has one most significant cause and the inspectors should “find the aspect that describes licensee performance that would have prevented or precluded the performance deficiency represented by that cause.” (p. 33)

Our Perspective

This is important stuff.  When NRC inspectors are huddled in their bunker evaluating their data and observations after reviewing your documentation, crawling around your plant and talking with your people, the information in these slides provides the road map for their determination of how one or more alleged SC deficiencies contributed to a performance problem which resulted in an inspection finding.

Think of the SC aspects as pegs on which the inspectors can hang their observations to beef up their theory of why a problem occurred. Under routine conditions, there are 23 pegs; under more stringent inspections, there are 35 pegs.  That’s a lot of pegs and none of them is trivial which means your organization’s response may consume sizable resources.

We’ll finish with a more cheery thought:  If you get to the point where the NRC is going to conduct an independent assessment of your SC, their team will follow the guidance in IP 95003.  But don’t worry about their competence, “IP 95003 inspection teams will receive "just-in-time" training before performing the inspection.” (p. 43)

Bottom line: If it looks like controlling oversight behavior and quacks like a bureaucrat, then it probably is de facto regulation.

*  NRC Training Slides, “Safety Culture Reactor Oversight Process Training” (July 10, 2015).  ADAMS ML15191A253.  The slides include other material, e.g., a summary of the conditions under which the NRC can “request” a licensee to perform a SC assessment, a set of case studies and sample test questions for trainees.

**  The Common Language Initiative led to NUREG-2165, “Safety Culture Common Language” which was published in early 2014 and we reviewed on April 6, 2014.

***  There are some complicated decision rules for determining when a problem is a substantive cross-cutting issue and these are worth reviewing on pp. 27-28.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Notes on Regulatory Capture

NRC Public Meeting
A couple of recent local news items discuss a too-cozy relationship between regulators and the supposedly regulated, to the detriment of ratepayers and ordinary citizens.  Neither is nuclear-related but they may give us some ideas on how regulatory capture might (or does) manifest in the nuclear industry.

PG&E and the CPUC

First up is an article* about Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).  PG&E is responsible for the deadly 2010 gas main explosion in San Bruno, CA.  It was later revealed that PG&E was involved in private, i.e., secret, lobbying to get the CPUC judge it wanted to handle the case.  An as investigation later concluded, such ex parte discussions gives the utilities an advantage over other participants in the regulatory process.

The article concentrates on remedial legislation working its way through the system.  One bill would close the loophole that allows secret meetings between the CPUC and a regulated entity under certain conditions.  Another would create an independent inspector general for the agency.

Berkeley Zoning Adjustment Board 

This editorial** focuses on a city zoning board that is stuffed with members whose background is in the development industry.  It quotes at length local resident James McFadden who has some excellent observations about the nature of regulatory capture in this situation.

“Although many people are quick to assume that capture means corruption, they really are different things.

“Capture is more of an aligning of economic world views, not necessarily to any monetary advantage, often just to make one's job easier or more pleasant in dealing with people on a day to day basis . . . .

“Captured individuals . . . don't see their behavior as incorrect.  They have forgotten that their role is to provide oversight and protection to the public . . . Their public meetings evolve into patronizing facades of democracy.

“. . . For the most part, capture is about creating a pleasant working environment with those in industry who they deal with on a daily basis.  It is a slow and insidious process that strikes at the heart of human psychology which allows us to work in groups. . . . When we-the-public show up and complain, we become the opponent to be ignored.

“. . . The [public] meeting becomes a dance of false empowerment where getting through the meeting on time is more important than focusing on important issues or input from the public.”

Our Perspective

Do you see any of the above behavior in the nuclear industry?  Here’s a clue to get you started: the mental model for all federally regulated or controlled activities, viz., the infamous “iron triangle” of special interests, Congress and federal bureaucrats.  In the nuclear space, utility lobbyists and industry organizations encourage/pressure Congress for favorable treatment in exchange for support at election time.  Congress leans on the NRC when job losses are threatened because of a lengthy plant shutdown or costly “over regulation.”  The NRC listens to or cooperates with industry “experts” when it is considering new policies, regulations or interpretations.  We believe the iron triangle is alive and well in the nuclear industry but is nowhere near as scurrilous as, say, the welfare system.

(Now the anti-nukes also lobby Congress and certain members of Congress are relentless critics of the NRC.  Do the scales balance?  And where does the clash of lobbying titans leave Joe Citizen?)

Expanding on one side of the triangle, nuclear utilities make efforts to build organizational, professional and personal relationships with the NRC because it’s in their direct economic interest to do so.  In the other direction, don’t NRC personnel try to get along with utility people they see on a regular basis?  Who wants to alienate everybody all the time?  The NRC tries to avoid being too cozy with the utilities but they can’t completely avoid it.  They are in the same business and speak the same language.  However, it’s far from scandalous, like the relationship between the former Minerals Management Service and the offshore drilling industry.  And there is no overactive revolving door between the NRC and industry.

What about outsiders who try to influence policy?  At the top, gadflies who address agency-wide issues or work with HQ personnel may eventually get a seat at the table.  But in the field, Jane Citizen making a statement at a meeting concerning the local plant probably doesn’t have as much leverage.  Consider how difficult it is for the average whistleblower to have an impact.

The Wikipedia entry on regulatory capture cites Princeton professor Frank von Hippel, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Associated Press to support the position that the NRC has been “captured.”  Has the NRC been too accommodating to the industry?  You be the judge.

There is an old saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  That’s true in some cases.  In other situations, familiarity breeds—greater familiarity.

*  J. Van Derbeken, “CPUC reform bills on governor’s desk,” San Francisco Chronicle (Sept. 15, 2015).  Questionable conduct flowed both ways.  It also came to light that the then-President of the CPUC appeared to offer his support for PG&E’s (and other utilities’) positions on regulatory cases in return for their contributions to his favorite political causes.  That’s called influence peddling.

**  B. O'Malley, “Berkeley's Zoning Board Slouches Toward Birthing Its Monster,” Berkeley Daily Planet (Sept. 13, 2015).  The Daily Planet is an online progressive (lefty) newspaper in Berkeley, CA.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

DNFSB Hearing on Safety Culture Progress at the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP)

The WTP aka the Vit Plant
On August 26, 2015 the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) held a hearing in the Hanford area to receive testimony from senior DOE officials representing DOE Headquarters, the Office of River Protection (ORP) and the WTP project regarding the current status of DOE efforts to improve safety culture (SC) at the WTP.  A senior DNFSB staff member also testified on DOE’s SC improvement efforts.

There is a video of the meeting but no transcript is yet available.* 

The panel of DOE managers enumerated the work that has been undertaken to improve SC at the WTP.**  Based on their written submittals, it is predictable and not especially interesting material.  Selected excerpts follow:

G. Podonsky (DOE HQ) – “. . . positive turn in the safety culture.  However, much work remains . . . . As our assessments of safety culture indicate, management often has a more positive outlook on the state of the safety culture than do the workers.”

K. Smith (ORP Mgr) – This is mostly a laundry list of actions, initiatives and putative progress.  “. . . ORP’s safety culture today . . .  is improving and headed in the right direction. . . . But there are areas that still need work . . .”

W.F. Hamel Jr. (Federal Project Director WTP) – This focuses on more specific, project-level actions.  “We believe we have made significant strides. . . . sustaining a healthy safety culture requires persistence and consistency at all levels of the organization . . .”  He gave a shout out to Bechtel for progress in improving their SC and the Safety Conscious Work Environment (SCWE).

After the panel completed their presentation, the DNFSB staff member responsible for overseeing WTP (and other DOE) SC efforts had ten minutes to provide the staff perspective on DOE’s efforts.  He summarized the SC assessments that have taken place at the WTP and other facilities in the DOE complex.***  His testimony had more “howevers” than a Consumer Reports review of a mediocre automobile.  For example, DOE’s original plan was developed prior to the 2012 SC assessment and did not include the latter’s findings.  DOE modified their plan for Hanford but it was not applied to other DOE facilities.  The DOE themes did not address the root causes the DNFSB identified in their 2011 Recommendation.  He was also critical of the DOE’s extent of condition review.

He was asked one question by the meeting chair: “Is the bad (i.e., not supportive of SC) management behavior identified in 2011 still occurring?”  The answer was “It’s mixed. Some yes and some no.”  The chair was clearly not happy with that answer after four years of effort.

Our Perspective

The DOE bureaucrats identified a passel of SC-related improvement activities and claim progress is being made but there is still work to accomplish.  The testimony of the DNFSB staffer was less optimistic.  A statement contributed for the record by an anonymous “concerned engineer” includes examples that look like they came straight from the bad old days.****  We have reviewed most the DOE/WTP assessments, action plans and progress reviews on Safetymatters; click on the DOE or WTP label to see related posts.  Call us harsh, but we don’t believe there will be any substantive changes in the way business is conducted at Hanford until the bad stuff starts leaching into the Columbia River.

On a slightly brighter note, the DNFSB is back to full strength with five members, including a new chairman.  From looking at the press releases, it appears they have added folks with federal/military backgrounds and middling technical exposure.  The new chair is a career technical functionary whose last stint was at the White House.  It’s hard to get All-Stars for a toothless agency.  What they can contribute to oversight of DOE remains to be seen.  We wish them well.

*  The video is here.  Testimony and statements are available here but most are scanned copies which means quotes have to be retyped and may not totally accurate.  For an overview of the meeting see A. Cary, "National board hears safety culture is improving at Hanford vit plant," Tri-City Herald (Aug. 26, 2015).

**  Statement for the Record and Additional Information of G. Podonsky, Office of Enterprise Assessments (Aug. 26, 2015).  Testimony of K. Smith, Manager, Office of River Protection (Aug. 26, 2015).  Testimony of W.F. Hamel Jr., Federal Project Director, Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (Aug. 26, 2015).

***  Testimony of D.B. Bullen, Group Lead, Nuclear Programs and Analysis, DNFSB.  The question and answer are not verbatim but paraphrased from the exchange between Bullen and the chair that occurs from about 1:52 to 1:55 in the video.

****  Statement from concerned engineer (Aug. 26, 2015).

Monday, August 24, 2015

NRC Regulation of Safety Culture: How They Do It

We have griped many times about how the NRC does, in fact, regulate (i.e., control or direct) licensee safety culture (SC) even though the agency claims it doesn’t because there is no applicable regulation.

A complete description of the agency’s approach was provided in 2010 NRC staff testimony* before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.  Note this testimony was given before the Safety Culture Policy Statement was issued but we believe it depicts current practices.  The key point is that “Oversight of an operating reactor licensee’s safety culture is implemented by the ROP [Reactor Oversight Process].” (p. 17)  Following are some lengthy quotes from the testimony and you can decide whether or not they add up to “regulation.”

“The ROP provides for the oversight of a licensee’s safety culture in four ways.  First, the ROP provides for the review of a licensee’s safety culture in a graded manner when that licensee has significant performance issues.  The level of the staff’s oversight is determined by the safety significance of the performance issues.  This review and evaluation is described in the ROP’s supplemental inspection program . . . An IP 95002 inspection is usually performed when a licensee enters [column 3] . . . of the ROP Action Matrix. . . [In certain circumstances] the NRC will request the licensee to perform an independent safety culture assessment.  An IP 95003 inspection is performed when a licensee enters [column 4] . . . of the ROP Action Matrix.  When this occurs, the NRC expects [emphasis added] the licensees to perform a third-party safety culture assessment.  The staff will review the results of the assessment and perform sample evaluations to verify the results.

“Second, the ROP’s reactive inspection program evaluates a licensee’s response to an event, including consideration of contributing causes related to the safety culture components, to fully understand the circumstances surrounding an event and its probable causes.

“Third, the ROP provides continuous oversight of licensee performance as inspectors evaluate inspection findings for cross-cutting aspects.  Cross-cutting aspects are aspects of licensee performance that can potentially affect multiple facets of plant operations and usually manifest themselves as the root causes of performance problems. . . .**

“Fourth, the ROP provides for the review of a licensee’s safety culture if that licensee has difficulty correcting long-standing substantive cross-cutting issues.  In these cases, the NRC will request the licensee to perform a safety culture assessment, and the NRC Staff will evaluate the results and the licensee’s response to the results.” (pp. 18-19)  In addition, “The ROP assessment process looks at long-standing substantive cross-cutting issues to determine if safety culture assessments need to be performed and reviewed.” (p. 24)  Significantly, “Safety culture is addressed through the use of cross-cutting issues which do not relate to the Action Matrix column that a plant may be placed in.” (p. 32)

Our Perspective

In our opinion, SC is regulated via a linkage to ongoing NRC activities.  Outputs from NRC inspection activities performed under the aegis of regulation (i.e., law) are used to assess licensee SC and force licensees to perform activities, e.g., SC assessments or corrective actions***, that the licensees might not choose to perform of their own free will.

The reality is NRC “requests” or “expectations” are like a commanding officer’s “wishes”; the intelligent subordinate understands they have the force of orders.  Here’s how the agency describes the fist inside the glove: “If the NRC requests a licensee to take an action, and the licensee refuses, the Agency can perform that action (i.e., the safety culture assessment) for them.” (p. 29)  We assume the NRC would invoke its regulatory authority to justify such an assessment.  But what licensee would want an under-experienced posse of federal inspectors, who expect to find problems because why else would they be assigned to the task, running through their organization?

Occasionally, the NRC drops the veil long enough to reveal the truth.  An NRC staffer (one of the witnesses who sponsored the ASLB testimony described above) recently made a presentation to the Korean nuclear regulator.  It included a figure that summarizes the SC aspects of the ROP Action Matrix.  Under columns 3 and 4, the figure says “may request” and “request” the licensee to conduct a SC assessment.  However, on the next page, the presentation bullets are more forthcoming: “For Plants in Columns 3 . . . and 4 . . . NRC requires [emphasis added] Licensee to conduct third party safety culture assessment which is reviewed by NRC.”****

We’re not opposed to the NRC squeezing licensees to strengthen their SC.  We just don’t like hypocrisy and doublespeak.  Perhaps the agency takes this convoluted approach to controlling SC to support their claim they don’t interfere with licensee management.  We don’t believe that; do you?

NRC Staff Testimony of V.E. Barnes et al Concerning Safety Culture and NRC Safety Culture Policy Development and Implementation before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (July 30, 2010) revised Sept. 7, 2010.  ADAMS ML102500605.

**  The ROP framework includes three cross-cutting areas (human performance, problem identification and resolution, and safety conscious work environment) which contain nine safety culture components. (p. 23)

***  This is another leverage point for the agency.  They make sure SC assessment findings are entered in the licensee’s corrective action program (CAP).  Then they use their regulatory authority over the CAP to ensure it is useful and effective, i.e., that SC corrective actions are implemented. (p. 30)

****  M. Keefe, “Incorporating Safety Culture into the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP),” presentation to the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (June 2-3, 2015), pp. 5-6.  ADAMS ML15161A109.