Wednesday, February 16, 2011

BP Exec Quit Over Safety Before Deepwater Disaster

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting news item about a BP Vice President who quit prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster because he felt BP "was not adequately committed to improving its safety protocols in offshore drilling to the level of its industry peers." The full article is available here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

“what people do, not why they do it…”

Our perseverance through over three hours of the web video of the Commission meeting on the proposed safety culture policy statement was finally rewarded in the very last minute of discussion.  Commissioner Apostolakis reiterated some of his concerns with the direction of the policy statement, observing that the NRC is a performance-based agency and:

“...we really care about what people do and maybe not why they do it….”

Commissioner Apostolakis was amplifying his discomfort with the inclusion of values along with behaviors in the policy as values are inherently fuzzy, not measurable, and may or may not be a prerequisite to the right behaviors.  Perhaps most of all, he believed omitting the reference to core values would not detract from the definition of safety culture. 

Earlier in the meeting Commissioner Apostolakis had tried to draw out the staff on whether the definition of safety culture needed values in addition to behaviors [at time 2:34:58], and would it be a fatal flaw to omit “core values”.  The staff response was illuminating.  The justification offered for retaining values was “stakeholder consensus”, and extensive outreach efforts that supported inclusion.  (But why was it so important to stakeholders?)  The staff went on to clarify: “culture does not lend itself to be inspectable”, but “having values with behaviors is what culture is all about”.   Frankly we’re not sure what that means, but we do know that safety culture behaviors are inspectable because they are observable and measurable.

That much of the staff’s justification for including values in the policy statement seemed to reside in the fact that all the stakeholders had agreed received positive endorsement by Chairman Jaczko when he observed:  “...Commissioner Magwood I think made a profound point that there was value in this process here that may be tremendously more important than the actual policy statement was the fact that people got together and started talking about this and realized that across this wide variety of stakeholders, there was pretty good agreement about the kinds of things that we were talking about.”

Chairman Jaczko also weighed in on the values-behaviors contrast, coming down firmly on the inclusion of values and offering the following justification:

“...not all entities with a good safety culture will have necessarily the right values…”

Respectfully, we believe at a minimum this will further confuse the NRC’s policy on safety culture, and in all likelihood places emphasis in exactly the wrong place.  Is the Chairman agreeing all that matters is what people do?  Or is he suggesting that the NRC would find fault with a licensee that was acting consistent with safety but did not manifest the “right” values.  And how would the NRC reach such a finding?  More fundamentally, isn’t Commissioner Apostolakis correct in his blunt statement - that we [NRC] don’t care why they [licensees] do it?

Monday, February 7, 2011

More Hope

Our prior post highlighted a comment early in the January 24, 2011 Commission meeting to review the proposed policy statement on nuclear safety culture. 

In the context of her advocacy for regulations in addition to a policy statement, attorney Billie Garde stated she “hoped” that proceeding with just a policy statement was the right decision.  We thought her warning of the fallout from a possible future nuclear event would get some attention.  It did, at least with Commissioner Svinicki who sought some clarification of Garde’s concern.  Just prior to this clip, Svinicki had observed that in her mind a policy statement can’t supplant an appropriate regulatory framework in terms of compelling certain behaviors.  No matter what you think about the appropriateness of a policy statement versus other regulatory actions, Garde is certainly correct that the question will be asked in the future: Did the NRC do enough?

Friday, February 4, 2011

“I Hope For All Our Sakes This is Right”

On January 24, 2011 the NRC Commissioners met to review the proposed policy statement on nuclear safety culture developed by the NRC staff. This most recent effort was chartered by the Commission more than 3 years ago and represents the next step in the process to publish the proposed statement for public comment.

“25 years is long enough to build a policy statement…” for nuclear safety culture. This observation by Billie Garde* in her opening remarks to the Commissioners, with her timeline referring to the Chernobyl and space shuttle Challenger accidents in 1986. She also emphasized that the need was to now focus on implementation of the policy statement. She maintained her position that a policy statement alone would not be sufficient and that regulation would be necessary to assure consistent and reliable implementation.

In that regard she lays claim to one of the more disconcerting observations made at the meeting, the gist of which can be summed up as, “I hope for all our sakes this is right…”

Here’s the video clip with the exchange between Garde and Commissioner Apostolakis.

We will be following up with additional posts with highlights from the Commission session.

*  Billie Garde is an attorney in Washington, D.C.  Her NRC website bio is here.