Thursday, January 10, 2013

NRC Non-Regulation of Safety Culture: Fourth Quarter Update

NRC SC Brochure ML113490097
On March 17, July 3 and October 17, 2012 we posted on NRC safety culture (SC) related activities with individual licensees. This post highlights selected NRC actions during the fourth quarter, October through December 2012. We report on this topic to illustrate how the NRC squeezes plants on SC even if the agency is not officially regulating SC.

Prior posts mentioned Browns Ferry, Fort Calhoun and Palisades as plants where the NRC was undertaking significant SC-related activities. It appears none of those plants has resolved its SC issues.

Browns Ferry

An NRC supplemental inspection report* contained the following comment on a licensee root cause analysis: “Inadequate emphasis on the importance of regulatory compliance has contributed to a culture which lacks urgency in the identification and timely resolution of issues associated with non-compliant and potentially non-conforming conditions.” Later, the NRC observes “This culture change initiative [to address the regulatory compliance issue] was reviewed and found to still be in progress. It is a major corrective action associated with the upcoming 95003 inspection and will be evaluated during that inspection.” (Two other inspection reports, both issued November 30, 2012, noted the root cause analyses had appropriately considered SC contributors.)

An NRC-TVA public meeting was held December 5, 2012 to discuss the results of the supplemental inspections.** Browns Ferry management made a presentation to review progress in implementing their Integrated Improvement Plan and indicated they expected to be prepared for the IP 95003 inspection (which will include a review of the plant's third party SC assessment) in the spring of 2013.

Fort Calhoun

SC must be addressed to the NRC’s satisfaction prior to plant restart. The NRC's Oct. 2, 2012 inspection report*** provided details on the problems identified by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) in the independent Fort Calhoun SC assessment, including management practices that resulted “. . . in a culture that valued harmony and loyalties over standards, accountability, and performance.”

Fort Calhoun's revision 4 of its improvement plan**** (the first revision issued since Exelon took over management of the plant in September, 2012) reiterates management's previous commitments to establishing a strong SC and, in a closely related area, notes that “The Corrective Action Program is already in place as the primary tool for problem identification and resolution. However, CAP was not fully effective as implemented. A new CAP process has been implemented and root cause analysis on topics such as Condition Report quality continue to create improvement actions.”

OPPD's progress report***** at a Nov. 15, 2012 public meeting with the NRC includes over two dozen specific items related to improving or monitoring SC. However, the NRC restart checklist SC items remain open and the agency will be performing an IP 95003 inspection of Fort Calhoun SC during January-February, 2013.^

Palisades

Palisades is running but still under NRC scrutiny, especially for SC. The Nov. 9, 2012 supplemental inspection report^^ is rife with mentions of SC but eventually says “The inspection team concluded the safety culture was adequate and improving.” However, the plant will be subject to additional inspection efforts in 2013 to “. . . ensure that you [Palisades] are implementing appropriate corrective actions to improve the organization and strengthen the safety culture on site, as well as assessing the sustainability of these actions.”

At an NRC-Entergy public meeting December 11, Entergy's presentation focused on two plant problems (DC bus incident and service water pump failure) and included references to SC as part of the plant's performance recovery plan. The NRC presentation described Palisades SC as “adequate” and “improving.”^^^

Other Plants

NRC supplemental inspections can require licensees to assess “whether any safety culture component caused or significantly contributed to” some performance issue. NRC inspection reports note the extent and adequacy of the licensee’s assessment, often performed as part of a root cause analysis. Plants that had such requirements laid on them or had SC contributions noted in inspection reports during the fourth quarter included Braidwood, North Anna, Perry, Pilgrim, and St. Lucie. Inspection reports that concluded there were no SC contributors to root causes included Kewaunee and Millstone.

Monticello got a shout-out for having a strong SC. On the other hand, the NRC fired a shot across the bow of Prairie Island when the NRC PI&R inspection report included an observation that “. . . while the safety culture was currently adequate, absent sustained long term improvement, workers may eventually lose confidence in the CAP and stop raising issues.”^^^^ In other words, CAP problems are linked to SC problems, a relationship we've been discussing for years.

The NRC perspective and our reaction

Chairman Macfarlane's speech to INPO mentioned SC: “Last, I would like to raise “safety culture” as a cross-cutting regulatory issue. . . . Strengthening and sustaining safety culture remains a top priority at the NRC. . . . Assurance of an effective safety culture must underlie every operational and regulatory consideration at nuclear facilities in the U.S. and worldwide.”^^^^^

The NRC claims it doesn't regulate SC but isn't “assurance” part of “regulation”? If NRC practices and procedures require licensees to take actions they might not take on their own, don't the NRC's activities pass the duck test (looks like a duck, etc.) and qualify as de facto regulation? To repeat what we've said elsewhere, we don't care if SC is regulated but the agency should do it officially, through the front door, and not by sneaking in the back door.


*  E.F. Guthrie (NRC) to J.W. Shea (TVA), “Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant NRC Supplemental Inspection Report 05000259/2012014, 05000260/2012014, 05000296/2012014” (Nov. 23, 2012) ADAMS ML12331A180.

**  E.F. Guthrie (NRC) to J.W. Shea (TVA), “Public Meeting Summary for Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, Docket No. 50-259, 260, and 296” (Dec. 18, 2012) ADAMS ML12353A314.

***  M. Hay (NRC) to L.P. Cortopassi (OPPD), “Fort Calhoun - NRC Integrated Inspection Report Number 05000285/2012004” (Oct. 2, 2012) ADAMS ML12276A456.

****  T.W. Simpkin (OPPD) to NRC, “Fort Calhoun Station Integrated Performance Improvement Plan, Rev. 4” (Nov. 1, 2012) ADAMS ML12311A164.

*****  NRC, “Summary of November 15, 2012, Meeting with Omaha Public Power District” (Dec. 3, 2012) ADAMS ML12338A191.

^  M. Hay (NRC) to L.P. Cortopassi (OPPD), “Fort Calhoun Station – Notification of Inspection (NRC Inspection Report 05000285/2013008 ” (Dec. 28, 2012) ADAMS ML12363A175.

^^  S. West (NRC) to A. Vitale (Entergy), “Palisades Nuclear Plant - NRC Supplemental Inspection Report 05000255/2012011; and Assessment Follow-up Letter” (Nov. 9, 2012) ADAMS ML12314A304.

^^^  O.W. Gustafson (Entergy) to NRC, Entergy slides to be presented at the December 11, 2012 public meeting (Dec. 7, 2012) ADAMS ML12342A350. NRC slides for the same meeting ADAMS ML12338A107.

^^^^  K. Riemer (NRC) to J.P. Sorensen (NSP), “Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant, Units 1 and 2; NRC Biennial Problem Identification and Resolution Inspection Report 05000282/2012007; 05000306/2012007” (Sept. 25, 2012) ADAMS ML12269A253.

^^^^^  A.M. Macfarlane, “Focusing On The NRC Mission: Maintaining Our Commitment to Safety” speech presented at the INPO CEO Conference (Nov. 6, 2012) ADAMS ML12311A496.

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