Monday, April 27, 2015

INPO’s View on Fukushima Safety Culture Lessons Learned

In November 2011 the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) published a special report* on the March 2011 Fukushima accident.  The report provided an overview and timeline for the accident, focusing on the evolution of the situation during the first several days after the earthquake and tsunami.  Safety culture (SC) was not mentioned in the report.

In August 2012 INPO issued an addendum** to the report covering Fukushima lessons learned in eight areas, including SC.  Each area contains a lengthy discussion of relevant plant activities and experiences, followed by specific lessons learned.  According to INPO, some lessons learned may be new or different from those published elsewhere.  Several caught our attention as we paged through the addendum: Invest resources to assess low-probability, high-consequence events (Black Swans).  Beef up available plant staffing to support regular staff in case a severe, long duration event inconveniently occurs on a weekend.  Evaluate the robustness of off-site event management facilities (TEPCO’s was inaccessible, lost power and did not have filtered ventilation).  Be aware that assigning most decision making authority to the control room crew (as TEPCO did) meant other plant groups could not challenge or check ops’ decisions—efficiency at the cost of thoroughness.  Conduct additional training for a high-dose environment when normal dosage limits are replaced with emergency ones.  Ensure that key personnel have in-depth reactor and power plant knowledge to respond effectively if situations evolve beyond established procedures and flexibility is required.

Focusing on SC, the introduction to this section is clear and unexpectedly strong: “History has shown that accidents and their precursors at commercial nuclear electric generating stations result from a series of decisions and actions that reflect flaws in the shared assumptions, values, and beliefs of the operating organization.” (p. 33)

The SC lessons learned are helpful.  INPO observed that while TEPCO had taken several steps over the years to strengthen its SC, it missed big picture issues including cultivating a questioning attitude, challenging assumptions, practicing safety-first decision making and promoting organizational learning.  In each of these areas, the report covers specific deficiencies or challenges faced at Fukushima followed by questions aimed at readers asking them to consider if similar conditions exist or could exist at their own facilities.

Our Perspective

The addendum has a significant scope limitation: it does not address public policy (e.g., regulatory or governmental) factors that contributed to the Fukushima accident and yielded their own lessons learned.***  However, given the specified scope, a quick read of the entire addendum suggests it’s reasonably thorough, the SC section certainly is.  The questions aimed at report readers are the kind we ask all the time on Safetymatters but we award INPO full marks for addressing these general, qualitative, open-ended subjects.  One question INPO raised that we have not specifically asked is “To what extent are the safety implications considered during enterprise business planning and budgeting?” (italics added)  Another, inferred from the report text, is “How do operators create complex, realistic scenarios (e.g., with insufficient information and/or personnel under stress) during emergency training?”  These are legitimate additions to the repertoire.  

The addendum is not perfect.  For example, INPO trots out the “special and unique” mantra when discussing the essential requirements to maintain core cooling capability and containment integrity (esp. with respect to venting at Fukushima).  This mantra, coupled with INPO’s usual penchant for secrecy, undermines public support for commercial nuclear power.  INPO can be a force for good when its work products, like this report and addendum, are publicly available.  It would be better for the industry if INPO were more transparent and if commercial nuclear power were characterized as a safety-intense industrial process run by ordinary, albeit highly trained, people.

Bottom line, you should read the addendum looking for bits that apply to your own situation.


*  INPO, “Special Report on the Nuclear Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station,” INPO 11-005 Rev. 0 (Nov. 2011).

**  INPO, “Lessons Learned from the Nuclear Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station,” INPO 11-005 Rev. 0 Addendum (Aug. 2012).  Thanks to Madalina Tronea for publicizing this document.  Dr. Tronea is the founder/moderator of the LinkedIn Nuclear Safety discussion group.

***  Regulatory, government and corporate governance lessons learned have been publicized by other Fukushima reviewers and the findings widely distributed, including on Safetymatters.  Click on the Fukushima label to see our related posts. 

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