Friday, May 26, 2017

Nuclear Safety Culture Update at Pilgrim and Watts Bar

Pilgrim

Watts Bar
A couple of recent reports address the nuclear safety culture (NSC) problems at Pilgrim and Watts Bar.  This post summarizes the reports and provides our perspective on their content.  Spoiler alert: there is not much new in this news.

Pilgrim

The NRC issued their report* on phase C of their IP 95003 inspection at Pilgrim.  This is the phase where the NRC conducts its own assessment of the plant’s NSC.  The overall finding in the cover letter is: “The NRC determined that programs and processes at PNPS [Pilgrim] adequately support nuclear safety and that PNPS should remain in Column 4.”  However, the letter goes on to detail a host of deficiencies.  The relative good news is that Pilgrim’s NSC shortcomings weren’t sufficiently serious or interesting to merit mention in the cover letter.

But the NRC had plenty to say about NSC in the main report.  Highlights include the finding that NSC is a “fundamental problem” at Pilgrim.  NSC gradually deteriorated over time and “actions to balance competing priorities, manage problems, and prioritize workload resulted in reduced safety margins.”  Staffing reduction initiatives exacerbated plant performance problems.  Personnel were challenged to exhibit standards and expectations in conservative decision-making, work practices, and procedure use and adherence.  Contributing factors to performance shortcomings include lack of effective benchmarking of industry standards and the plant’s planned 2019 permanent shutdown.  The NRC also noted weaknesses in the Executive Review Board, Employee Concerns Program and the Nuclear Safety Culture Monitoring Panel. (pp. 8-10)

Watts Bar

In April the TVA inspector general (IG) issued a report** castigating TVA management for allowing a chilled work environment (CWE) to continue to exist at Watts Bar.  The IG report’s findings included: TVA's analyses and its response to the NRC’s CWE letter were incomplete and inadequate; TVA's planned corrective actions are unlikely to have long-term effectiveness; precursors of the CWE went unrecognized by management; and management has inappropriately influenced the outcome of analyses and investigations pertaining to Watts Bar NSC/SCWE issues.  Staff stress, fear and trust issues also exist.

In response, TVA management pointed out the corrective actions that were taken or are underway since the first draft of the IG report was issued.  Additionally, TVA management “has expressly acknowledged management's role in creating the condition and its responsibility for correcting it."

Our Perspective

This is merely a continuation of a couple of sad stories we’ve been reporting on for a long time.  Click on the Entergy, Pilgrim, TVA or Watts Bar labels to get our earlier reports. 

The finding that Pilgrim did not adequately benchmark against industry standards is appalling. 
Entergy operates a fleet of nuclear plants and they don’t know what industry standards are?  Whatever.  Entergy is closing all the plants they purchased outside their service territory, hopefully to increase their attention on their utility-owned plants (where Arkansas Nuclear One remains a work in progress). 

We applaud the TVA IG for shining a light on the agency’s NSC issues.  In response to the IG report, TVA management put out a typical mea culpa accompanied by claims that their current corrective actions will fix the CWE and other NSC problems.  Well, their prior actions were ineffective and these actions will also probably fall short.  It doesn’t really matter.  TVA is too big to fail, both politically and economically, and their nuclear program will likely continue to plod along forever.


*  D.H. Dorman (NRC) to J. Dent (TVA), “Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station – Supplemental Inspection Report (Inspection Procedure 95003 Phase ‘C’) 05000293/2016011 and Preliminary Greater-than-Green Finding” (May 10, 2017).  ADAMS ML17129A217.

**  TVA Inspector General, “NTD Consulting Group, LLC's Assessment of TVA's Evaluation of the Chilled Work Environment at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant - 2016-16702” (April 19, 2017).  Also see D. Flessner, “TVA inspector general says safety culture problems remain at Watts Bar,” Chattanooga Times Free Press (April 21, 2017).  Retrieved May 25, 2017.

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