Monday, September 13, 2010

Here We Go Again

Back on March 22, 2010 we posted about the challenge of addressing safety culture issues through one-dimensional approaches such as focusing on leadership or reiterating training materials.  We observed that the conventional wisdom that culture is simply leadership driven does not address the underlying complexity of culture dynamics.  San Onofre may be the most recent case in point.  In 2008 new leadership was brought in to the station in response to ongoing culture issues.  Safety culture improved somewhat, at least according to surveys, then it resumed its decline. Last week leadership was changed again following continued pressure by the NRC on cross cutting issues.  Perhaps ironically, one of the more recent actions taken at the station in response to continuing allegations of a “chilled environment” was….leadership training.*

The evolution of events at San Onofre also reinforces another observation we have made about the reliance on safety culture surveys.  As with just about all similar situations, the prescription for weaknesses in “cornerstone” issues by both licensees and the NRC is: conduct a survey.  Looking back in the San Onofre case, the following was determined in its October 2009 survey:

Overall, the Independent Safety Culture Assessment determined that “the safety culture at SONGS is sufficient to support plant operations”.

SCE also reported to the NRC that the survey showed:

Site management is communicating strong and consistent safety messages, including:

-    Safety is the first priority
-    Site personnel are encouraged and expected to identify and report potential safety concerns**

The NRC then conducted additional inspections in early 2010.  “The inspection team determined that the safety culture at SONGS was adequate; however, several areas were identified that needed improvement .... All of the individuals interviewed expressed a willingness to raise safety concerns and were able to provide multiple examples of avenues available, such as their supervisor, writing a notification, other supervisors/managers, or the Nuclear Safety Concerns Program; however, approximately 25% of those interviewed indicated that they perceived that individuals would be retaliated against if they went to the NRC with a safety concern if they were not satisfied with their management’s response.”***

“When asked about the 2009 nuclear safety culture assessment, all of the individuals interviewed remembered having attended a briefing session on the results. However, only the general result of "safety culture was adequate” was recalled by those interviewed.”***

* "SONGS Hit with Stern NRC Rebuke," San Clemente Times (March 2, 2010).

** Slides presented at Nov 5, 2009 SCE-NRC meeting, attached to NRC Meeting Summary dated Nov 20,2009, ADAMS Accession Number ML093240212.

*** Letter dated Mar 2, 2010 from E. Collins (NRC) to R.T. Ridenoure (SCE), subject "Work Environment Issues at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station—Chilling Effect," ADAMS Accession Number ML100601272.

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