|Watts Bar Source: Wikipedia|
TVA officials must respond to the NRC within 30 days with a plan describing how they will address the issues identified in the CEL.
What’s a Chilling Effect Letter?
“CELs are issued when the NRC has concluded that the work environment is “chilled,” (i.e., workers perceive that the licensee is suppressing or discouraging the raising of safety concerns or is not addressing such concerns when they are raised).”**
The absence of fear of retaliation is the principal attribute of an effective safety conscious work environment (SCWE) which in turn is an important component of a strong safety culture (SC). Almost all commercial nuclear plants in the U.S. have figured out how to create and maintain an acceptable SCWE.
TVA appears to be an exception and a slow learner. This is not a new situation for them. As the CEL states, “a Confirmatory Order (EA-09-009, EA-09-203) remains in effect to confirm commitments made by TVA for all three [emphasis added] nuclear stations to address past SCWE issues.”
We have reported multiple times on long-standing SC problems at another TVA plant, Browns Ferry. And, as we posted on Apr. 25, 2014, Browns Ferry management even made a presentation on their SC improvement actions at the 2014 NRC Regulatory Information Conference.
NRC raised questions about the Watts Bar CAP. As we have long maintained, CAP effectiveness (promptly responding to identified issues, accurately characterizing them and permanently fixing them) is a key artifact of SC and a visible indicator of SC strength.
As regular readers know, we believe executive compensation is another indicator of SC. The recipient of the CEL is TVA’s Chief Nuclear Officer (CNO). According to TVA’s most recent SEC 10-K,*** the CNO made about $2.1 million in FY 2015. Almost $1 million of the total was short-term (annual) and long-term incentive pay. The components of the CNO’s annual incentive plan included capability factor, forced outage rate, equipment reliability and budget performance—safety is not mentioned.**** The long-term plan included the wholesale rate excluding fuel, load not served and external measures that included an undefined “nuclear performance index.” To the surprise of no one who follows these things, the CNO is not being specifically incentivized to create a SCWE or a strong SC.
Bottom line: This CEL is just another brick in the wall for TVA.
* C. Haney (NRC) to J.P. Grimes (TVA), “Chilled Work Environment for Raising and Addressing Safety Concerns at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant” (Mar. 23, 2016) ADAMS ML16083A479.
** D.J. Sieracki, “U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Safety Culture Oversight,” IAEA International Conference on Human and Organizational Aspects of Assuring Nuclear Safety (Feb. 24, 2016), p. 115 of “Programme and Abstracts.”
*** Tennessee Valley Authority SEC Form 10-K (annual report) for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2015. Executive compensation is discussed on pp. 152-77.
**** The calculation of the annual incentive plan payouts for named executives included a corporate multiplier based on six performance measures, one of which was safety performance based on the number of recordable injuries per hours worked, i.e., industrial safety. The weights of the six components are not shown.