Wednesday, March 26, 2014

NRC "National Report" to IAEA

A March 25, 2014 NRC press release* announced that Chairman Macfarlane presented the Sixth National Report for the Convention on Nuclear Safety** to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) member countries.  The report mentions safety culture (SC) several times, as discussed below.  There is no breaking news in a report like this.  We’re posting about it only because it provides an encyclopedic review of NRC activities including a description of how SC fits into their grand scheme of things.  We also tie the report’s contents to related posts on Safetymatters.  The numbers shown below are section numbers in the report.

6.3.11 Public Participation 

This section describes how the NRC engages with stakeholders and the broader public.  As part of such engagement, the NRC says it expects employers to maintain an open environment where workers are free to raise safety concerns. “These expectations are communicated through the NRC’s Safety Culture Policy Statement” and other regulatory directives and tools. (p. 72)  This is pretty straightforward and we have no comment. Human Resources

Section 8 describes the NRC, from its position in the federal government to how it runs its internal activities.  One such activity is the NRC Inspector General’s triennial General Safety Culture and Climate Survey for NRC employees.  Reporting on the most recent (2012) survey, “the NRC scored above both Federal and private sector benchmarks, although in 2012 the agency did not perform as strongly as it had in the past.” (p. 96)  We posted on the internal SC survey back on April 6, 2013; we felt the survey raised a few significant issues.

10.4 Safety Culture

Section 10 covers activities that ensure that safety receives its “due priority” from licensees and the NRC itself.  Sub-section 10.4 provides an in-depth description of the NRC’s SC-related policies and practices so we excerpt from it at length.

The discussion begins with the SC policy statement and the traits of a positive (sic) SC, including Leadership, Problem identification and resolution, Personal accountability, etc.

The most interesting part is 10.4.1 NRC Monitoring of Licensee Safety Culture which covers “the policies, programs, and practices that apply to licensee safety culture.” (p. 118)  It begins with the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) and its SC-related enhancements.  NRC staff identified 13 components as important to SC, including decision making, resources, work control, etc.  “All 13 safety culture components are applied in selected baseline, event followup, and supplemental IPs [inspection procedures].” (p. 119)

“There are no regulatory requirements for licensees to perform safety culture assessments routinely. However, depending on the extent of deterioration of licensee performance, the NRC has a range of expectations [emphasis added] about regulatory actions and licensee safety culture assessments, . . .” (p. 119)

“In the routine or baseline inspection program, the inspector will develop an inspection finding and then identify whether an aspect of a safety culture component is a significant causal factor of the finding. The NRC communicates the inspection findings to the licensee along with the associated safety culture aspect. 

“When performing the IP that focuses on problem identification and resolution, inspectors have the option to review licensee self-assessments of safety culture. The problem identification and resolution IP also instructs inspectors to be aware of safety culture components when selecting samples.” (p. 119)

“If, over three consecutive assessment periods (i.e., 18 months), a licensee has the same safety culture issue with the same common theme, the NRC may ask [emphasis added] the licensee to conduct a safety culture self-assessment.” (p. 120)

If the licensee performance degrades to Column 3 of the ROP Action Matrix and “the NRC determines that the licensee did not recognize that safety culture components caused or significantly contributed to the risk-significant performance issues, the NRC may request [emphasis added] the licensee to complete an independent assessment of its safety culture.” (p. 120)

For licensees in Column 4 of the ROP “the NRC will expect [emphasis added] the licensee to conduct a third-party independent assessment of its safety culture. The NRC will review the licensee’s assessment and will conduct an independent assessment of the licensee’s safety culture . . .” (p. 120)

ROP SC considerations “provide the NRC staff with (1) better opportunities to consider safety culture weaknesses . . . (2) a process to determine the need to specifically evaluate a licensee’s safety culture . . . and (3) a structured process to evaluate the licensee’s safety culture assessment and to independently conduct a safety culture assessment for a licensee . . . .  By using the existing Reactor Oversight Process framework, the NRC’s safety culture oversight activities are based on a graded approach and remain transparent, understandable, objective, risk-informed, performance-based, and predictable.” (p. 120)

We described this hierarchy of NRC SC-related activities in a post on May 24, 2013.  We called it de facto regulation of SC.  Reading the above only confirms that conclusion.  When the NRC asks, requests or expects the licensee to do something, it’s akin to a military commander’s “wishes,” i.e., they’re the same as orders.

10.4.2 The NRC Safety Culture 

This section covers the NRC’s actions to strengthen its internal SC.  This actions include appointing an SC Program Manager; integrating SC into the NRC’s Strategic Plan; developing training; evaluating the NRC’s problem identification, evaluation and resolution processes; and establishing clear expectations and accountability for maintaining current policies and procedures. 

We would ask how SC affects (and is affected by) the NRC’s decision making and resource allocation processes, work practices, operating experience integration and establishing personal accountability for maintaining the agency’s SC.  What’s good for the goose (licensee) is good for the gander (regulator).

Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) 

INPO also provided content for the report.  Interestingly, it is a 39-page Part 3 in the body of the report, not an appendix.  Part 3 covers INPO’s mission, organization, etc. and includes a section on SC.

6. Priority to Safety (Safety Culture)

The industry and INPO have their own definition of SC: “An organization’s values and behaviors—modeled by its leaders and internalized by its members—that serve to make nuclear safety the overriding priority.” (p. 230)

“INPO activities reinforce the primary obligation of the operating organizations’ leadership to establish and foster a healthy safety culture, to periodically assess safety culture, to address shortfalls in an open and candid fashion, and to ensure that everyone from the board room to the shop floor understands his or her role in safety culture.” (p. 231)

We believe our view of SC is broader than INPO’s.  As we said in our July 24, 2013 post “We believe culture, including SC, is an emergent organizational property created by the integration of top-down activities with organizational history, long-serving employees, and strongly held beliefs and values, including the organization's “real” priorities.  In other words, SC is a result of the functioning over time of the socio-technical system.  In our view, a CNO can heavily influence, but not unilaterally define, organizational culture including SC.” 


This 341 page report appears to cover every aspect of the NRC’s operations but, as noted in our introduction, it does not present any new information.  It’s a good reference document to cite if someone asks you what the NRC is or what it does.

We found it a bit odd that the definition of SC in the report is not the definition promulgated in the NRC SC Policy Statement.  Specifically, the report says the NRC uses the 1991 INSAG definition of SC: “that assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organizations and individuals which establishes that, as an overriding priority, nuclear safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance.” (p. 118)

The Policy Statement says “Nuclear safety culture is the core values and behaviors resulting from a collective commitment by leaders and individuals to emphasize safety over competing goals to ensure protection of people and the environment.”***

Of course, both definitions are different from the INPO definition provided above.  We’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out what this means.

*  NRC Press Release No: 14-021, “NRC Chairman Macfarlane Presents U.S. National Report to IAEA’s Convention on Nuclear Safety” (Mar. 25, 2014).  ADAMS ML14084A303.

**  NRC NUREG-1650 Rev. 5, “The United States of America Sixth National Report for the Convention on Nuclear Safety” (Oct. 2013).  ADAMS ML13303B021. 

***  NUREG/BR 0500 Rev 1, “Safety Culture Policy Statement” (Dec 2012).  ADAMS ML12355A122.  This definition comports with the one published in the Federal Register Vol. 76, No. 114 (June 14, 2011) p. 34777.

1 comment:

  1. Given that INPO 12-012 Rev 1 was finalized in April 2013 and that the IM 0310 procedures of the ROP have been brought into alignment with the Safety Culture Policy definition promulgated in June 2011 it is indicative of incomplete staff work that no one tidied these points up for the final edit. Of course this document was probably many months in the making but still...

    What is significant however, is that the official US definition is now definitely at odds with that adopted by INSAG and common to all the IAEA guidance documents. The differences is whether the topic of interest for "safety culture purposes" is institutional Issues Management (INSAG) or behaviors and attitudes of all individuals - from top to bottom in the organization - toward nuclear safety.

    If the normative meanings of culture (i.e. outside the nuclear world) were applicable, this distinction would be conspicuous and large. Alas, the indications from the blogosphere would seem to leave room for NSC to be just about any hobby horse the commenter wishes to ride. That is not the makings of a "Rising standard of Adequacy" for protection assurance.


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