Saturday, March 17, 2012

The NRC Does Not Regulate Safety Culture, Right?

Last March, the NRC approved its safety culture policy statement.*  At the time, a majority of commissioners issued supplemental comments expressing their concern that the policy statement could be used as a back door to regulation.  The policy was issued in June, 2011.  Enough time has lapsed to ask: What, if anything has happened, i.e., how is the NRC treating safety culture as it exercises its authority to regulate licensees?

We examined selected NRC documents for some plants where safety culture has been raised as a possible issue and see a few themes emerging.  One is the requirement to examine the causes of specific incidents to ascertain if safety culture was a contributing factor.  It appears some (perhaps most or all) special inspection notices to licensees include some language about "an assessment of whether any safety culture component caused or significantly contributed to these findings."  

The obvious push is to get the licensee to do the work and explicitly address safety culture in their mea culpa to the agency.  Then the agency can say, for example, that "The inspection team confirmed that the licensee established appropriate corrective actions to address safety culture."**  A variant on this theme is now occurring at Browns Ferry, where the “NRC is reviewing results from safety culture surveys performed by the plant in 2011.”*** 

The NRC is also showing the stick, at least at one plant.  At Fort Calhoun, the marching orders are: “Assess the licensee’s third party evaluation of their safety culture. . . . If necessary, perform an independent assessment of the licensee’s safety culture using the guidance contained in Inspection Procedure 95003."****  I think that means: If you can't/won't/don't perform an adequate safety culture evaluation, then we will.  To back up this threat, it appears the NRC is developing procedures and materials for qualifying its inspectors to evaluate safety culture.

The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process is another way to get safety culture addressed.  For example, Entergy got in 10 CFR 50.7 (employee protection) trouble for lowering a River Bend employee’s rating in part because of questions he raised.  One of Entergy's commitments following ADR was to perform a site-wide safety culture survey.  It probably didn’t help that, in a separate incident, River Bend operators were found accessing the internet when they were supposed to be watching the control board.  Entergy also has to look at safety culture at FitzPatrick and Palisades because of incidents at those locations.***** 

What does the recent experience imply?

The NRC’s current perspective on safety culture is summed up in an NRC project manager’s post in an internet Nuclear Safety Culture forum: “You seem to [sic] hung up on how NRC is going to enforce safety culture.  We aren't.  Safety culture isn't required. It won't be the basis for denying a license application.  It won't be the basis for citing a violation during an inspection.  However, if an incident investigation identifies safety culture as one of the root causes, we will require corrective action to address it.”  (Note this is NOT an official agency statement.)

However, our Bob Cudlin made a more expansive prediction in his January 19, 2011 post: “. . . it appears that the NRC will “expect” licensees to meet the intent and the particulars of its policy statement.  It seems safe to assume the NRC staff will apply the policy in its assessments of licensee performance. . . . The greatest difficulty is to square the rhetoric of NRC Commissioners and staff regarding the absolute importance of safety culture to safety, the “nothing else matters” perspective, with the inherently limited and non-binding nature of a policy statement.

While the record to date may support the NRC PM’s view, I think Bob’s observations are also part of the mix.  It’s pretty clear the NRC is turning the screw on licensee safety culture effectiveness, even if it’s not officially “regulating” safety culture.

*  NRC Commission Voting Record, SECY-11-005, “Proposed Final Safety Culture Policy Statement” (March 7, 2011).  I could not locate this document in ADAMS.

**  IR 05000482-11-006, 02/07-03/31/2011, Wolf Creek Generating Station - NRC Inspection Procedure 95002 Supplemental Inspection Report and Assessment Followup Letter (May 20, 2011) ADAMS ML111400351. 

***  Public Meeting Summary for Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, Docket No. 50-259 (Feb. 26, 2012) ADAMS ML12037A092.

****  Fort Calhoun Station Manual Chapter 0350 Oversight Panel Charter (Jan. 12, 2012) ADAMS ML120120661.

*****  EN-11-026, Confirmatory Order, Entergy Operations Inc.  (Aug. 19, 2011)  ADAMS ML11227A133; NRC Press Release-I-12-002: “NRC Confirms Actions to be Taken at FitzPatrick Nuclear Plant to Address Violations Involving Radiation Protection Program” (Jan. 26, 2012) ADAMS ML120270073; NRC Press Release-III-12-003: “NRC Issues Confirmatory Orders to Palisades Plant Owner Entergy and Plant Operator” (Jan. 26, 2012) ADAMS ML120270071.


  1. With respect for your view, I would say you are bending over backwards to interpret the evidence as consistent with a conclusion they are "not 'officially' regulating safety culture."

    The very usage regarding "officially regulating" is indicative of the sorts of hypothetical hair-splitting that the entire NSC exercise promotes. Of course they are regulating - when "expectations" lead to enforceable consequences in the inspection program results - its regulation.

    The NRC doesn't have the authority to do anything but regulated. The issue here is not about regulation but about the manner of enforcement and the degree of persuasion and compliant response that Staff will accept as they go about their regulatory duties. In any quasi-logical world how could it be different?

    If the issue with NSC is not whether it is regulation or not, then we can step back and ask are these effective and prudent ways to meet the NRC's Strategic Safety Objectives?

    Given that those SSO embody a Duty of Prevention - zero acceptance that not all significant close calls can be avoided - I suggest that it will not be effective and will devolve into the imprudent. The Entergy Confirmatory Order in the Fitzpatrick case seems to me a good example of how NSC regulation leads to NRC over-functioning.

  2. Define, measure, manage [and regulate]. In order to manage [or regulate] anything effectively, you need to be able to measure [assess] it accurately. To measure anything accurately, to need to be able to define it clearly [you need what is referred to as an "operational definition".

    There are many different types of safety culture. How safely you drive is your own personal "driver safety culture". There are many safety cultures at a plant [I made a slide of this that INPO uses] electrical,medical, OSHA, chemical etc.

    What is called "nuclear safety culture" is actually "process safety culture" which is the same as the process safety culture of any HRO.

    Vis a vis "safety culture" I was on the NRC "expert panel" in 2011 that developed the new NRC definition. I was [by a considerable margin] the most expert on the subject, but I was also a "member of the public" and most of my input was overruled by INPO, NEI, NRC and industry executives.

    I did get a few words in such as "leadership" and "protect people and environment" but overall NRC developed an improper, inaccurate definition becuase they [as is usual] tend to be quite arrogent and often DO NOT LISTEN WELL AT ALL.

    As the Baker commission investigating the 2005 BP Texas refinery acident pointed out, BP leadership did not know the difference between OSHA safety culture and process safety culture. Just hours prior to the 2011 BP Gulf oil disaster, BP executives landed on the platform to deliver an OSHA safety award for low worker accident rate, then BOOM because BP managers had [to save a little time and money] overruled process safety measures [addition of drilling mud] planned by Haliburton. With the mud, Berkeley blowout expert Dr. Bob Bea says it is likely there would have been no blowout.

    Point is, exactly like BP, NRC does not understand that "nuclear safety culture" is "process safety culture". I did a 15 minute presentation at the workshop, people stared with blank expressions, no one understood what I was saying, but there were no questions. Not one. No one wanted to understand, becuase [like BP] the industry [mainly NEI and INPO] wanted to do what that they wanted to do, period.

    Here is a proper definition of nuclear safety culture that would [or at least could] have led to proper effective assessment management [and regulation] of NSC, if NRC had been able to listen to me [truly listen to me with an open mind for just a few minutes] at the 2011 meeting:

    Nuclear [or HRO, or Process] Safety Culture

    "In a high hazard industry or venture, professional leadership attitudes that ensure risk of harm to the public or the environment is maintained as low as reasonably achievable, thereby assuring stakeholder trust."

    However, it needs to be understood as the process safety culture operating operates within a HHI/HHV/HRO, which also need to be understood.

    High Hazard Industry or Venture

    "An industry or venture that operates and manages specialized processes with significant inherent risk of harm to public health or the environment. Examples: nuclear power, aviation, medical, chemical, military."

    High Reliability Organization

    "An organization that manages specialized processes with significant inherent risk of harm to public health or the environment."

    I have several dozen more fully developed definitions [i.e. a "language"] necessary for fully understanding HRO / nuclear / process safety culture, but what is the point of trying to discuss them if NRC / NEI / INPO do not to wish to listen, to understand?

    I am beyond caring and am at peace now. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. You can show a man the solution, but you can't make him think.

    Dave Collins

    1. Re: Dave Collins' comment that BP management did not know the difference between OSHA safety and process safety. He may be going easy on BP. We think it's possible that BP leadership was not focused on ANY type of safety as a high priority. Clearly they made decisions that favored business objectives in trying to get the rig finished and into production. The lengthy period of no lost-time worker accidents could have been simple good fortune, and not the result of BP management activity


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