Thursday, June 25, 2015

Safety Culture at Arkansas Nuclear One

Arkansas Nuclear One (credit: Edibobb)
Everyone has heard about the March 31, 2013 stator drop at Arkansas Nuclear One (ANO).  But there was also unsatisfactory performance with respect to flood protection and unplanned scrams.  As a consequence, ANO has been assigned to column 4 of the NRC’s Action Matrix where it will receive the highest level of oversight for an operating plant.

When a plant is in column 4 the NRC takes a particular interest in its safety culture (SC) and ANO is no exception.  NRC required ANO to have an independent (i.e., outside third party) SC assessment, which was conducted starting in late 2014.  While the assessment report is not public, some highlights were discussed during the May 21, 2015 NRC staff briefing of the Commissioners on the results of the April 15, 2015 Agency Action Review Meeting.*

NRC Presentation

The bulk of the staff presentation was a soporific review of agency progress in a variety of areas.  But when the topic turned to ANO, the Regional Administrator responsible for ANO was quite specific and minced no words.  Following are the key problems he reviewed.  See if you can connect the dots on SC issues based on these artifacts.

Let’s start with the stator drop.  ANO’s initial root cause evaluation did not identify any root or contributing causes related to ANO’s own performance, but rather focused solely on the contractor.  After the NRC identified ANO’s failure to follow its load handling procedure, ANO conducted another root cause evaluation and identified their own organizational performance issues such as inadequate project oversight and non-conservative decision making. (pp. 28-29)

The stator drop damaged a fire main which caused localized flooding.  This led to an extended condition review which identified various equipment and structures that could be subject to flooding.  The NRC inspectors pointed out deficiencies in the condition review and identified corrective actions that likely would not work.  In addition, earlier flooding walkdowns completed as part of the NRC’s post-Fukushima requirements failed to identify the majority of the flood protection deficiencies.  These walkdowns were also performed by a contractor.  (pp. 29-31)

Finally, ANO did not report an April 2014 Unit 2 trip as an unplanned scram because the trip occurred during a planned down power evolution.  After prodding by the NRC inspectors, ANO reclassified this event as an unplanned scram. (pp. 31-32)

Overall, the NRC felt it was driving ANO to perform complete evaluations and develop effective corrective actions.  NRC believes that ANO’s “cause evaluations typically don't provide for a thorough assessment of organizational and programmatic contributors to events or issues.” (p. 35)  Later, in response to a question, the Regional Administrator said “I think the licensee clearly needs to own the performance gaps, ensure that their assessments in the various areas are comprehensive and then identify appropriate actions, and then engage and ensure those actions are effective. . . . I don't want to be in a position where our inspection activities are the means for identifying the performance gaps.” (p. 44)

Responding to a question about ANO’s independent SC assessment, he said “one of the key findings . . . was that there's an urgent need to internalize and communicate the seriousness of performance problems and engage the site in their strategy for improvement.” (p. 45)

Entergy Presentation

A team of Entergy (ANO’s owner) senior managers presented their action plan for ANO.  They said they would own their own problems, improve contractor oversight, identify their own issues, increase corporate oversight and improve their CAP.

With respect to culture, they said “We're going to change the culture to promote a healthy, continuous improvement and to not only achieve, but also to sustain excellence.” (pp. 70-71)  They are benchmarking other plants, analyzing ANO’s issues and adding resources including people with plant performance recovery experience. 

They took comfort from the SC assessment conclusion “That although weaknesses exist, the overall safety culture at ANO is sufficient to support safe operation." (p. 72)

In response to a question about important takeaways from the SC assessment, Entergy referred to the need for the plant to recognize that performance has got to improve, the CAP must be more effective and organizational programmatic elements are important.  In addition, they vowed to align the organization on the performance gaps (and their significance) and establish a sense of urgency in order to fix them. (pp. 80-81)

Our Perspective

Not to be too cynical, but what else could Entergy say?  When your plant is in column 4, a mega mea culpa is absolutely necessary.  But Entergy’s testimony read like generic management arm-waving invoking the usual set of fixes.

Basically, the ANO culture endorses a “blame the contractor” attitude, accepts incomplete investigations into actual events and potential problems, and is content to let the NRC point out problems for them.  Where did those values come from?  Is “increased oversight” sufficient to create a long-term fix?

ANO naturally gives a lot of weight to the SC assessment because its findings appear relatively simple and apparently actionable.   Somewhat surprisingly, the NRC also appears to give this assessment broad credibility.  We think that’s misplaced.  The chances are slim of such an assessment identifying deep, systemic cultural issues although we admit we don’t know the assessment details.  Did the assessment team perform document reviews, conduct focus groups or interviews?  If it was a survey, it only identified the most pressing issues in the plant’s safety climate.

Taking a more systemic view, we note that Entergy has a history of SC issues over many plants in its fleet.  Check out our Feb. 20, 2015 post for highlights on some of their problems.  Are ANO’s problems just the latest round of SC Whac-A-Mole at Entergy?

Entergy has always had a strong Operations focus at its plants.  The NRC’s confidence in ANO’s operators is the main reason that plant is not shut down.  But continuously glorifying the operators, particularly their ability to respond successfully to challenging conditions, is like honoring firefighters while ignoring the fire marshal.  The fire marshal role at a nuclear plant is played by Engineering and Maintenance, groups whose success is hidden (thus under-appreciated) in an ongoing series of dynamic, non-events, viz., continuous safe plant operation.  That’s a cultural issue.  By the way, who gets the lion’s share of praise and highest status at your plant?

*  “Briefing on Results of the Agency Action Review Plan Meeting,” public meeting transcript (May 21, 2015).  ADAMS ML15147A041.

The Agency Action Review Meeting (AARM) “is a meeting of the senior leadership of the agency, and its goals are to review the appropriateness of agency actions taken for reactor material licensees with significant performance issues.” (pp. 3-4)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Training....Yet Again

U.S. Navy SEALS in Training
We have beat the drum on the value of improved and innovative training techniques for improving safety management performance for some time.  Really since the inception of this blog where our paper, “Practicing Nuclear Safety Management,”* was one of the seminal perspectives we wanted to bring to our readers.  We continue to encounter knowledgeable sources that advocate practice-based approaches and so continue to bring them to our readers’ attention.  The latest is an article from the Harvard Business Review that calls attention to, and distinguishes, “training” as an essential dimension of organizational learning.  The article is “How the Navy SEALS Train for Leadership Excellence.”**  The author, Michael Schrage,*** is a research fellow at MIT who reached out to a former SEAL, Brandon Webb, who transformed SEAL training.  The author contends that training, as opposed to just education or knowledge, is necessary to promote deep understanding of a business or market or process.  Training in this sense refers to actually performing and practicing necessary skills.  It is the key to achieving high levels of performance in complex environments. 

One of Webb’s themes that really struck a chord was: “successful training must be dynamic, open and innovative…. ‘It’s every teacher’s job to be rigorous about constantly being open to new ideas and innovation’, Webb asserts.”  It is very hard to think about much of the training in the nuclear industry on safety culture and related issues as meeting these criteria.  Even the auto industry has recently stepped up to require the conduct of decision simulations to verify the effectiveness of corrective actions - in the wake of the ignition switch-related accidents. (see our
May 22, 2014 post.)

In particular the reluctance of the nuclear industry and its regulator to address the presence and impact of goal conflicts on safety continues to perplex us and, we hope, many others in the industry.   It was on the mind of Carlo Rusconi more than a year ago when he observed: “Some of these conflicts originate high in the organization and are not really amenable to training per se” (see our
Jan. 9, 2014 post.)  However a certain type of training could be very effective in neutralizing such conflicts - practicing making safety decisions against realistic fact-based scenarios.  As we have advocated on many occasions, this process would actualize safety culture principles in the context of real operational situations.  For the reasons cited by Rusconi it builds teamwork and develops shared viewpoints.  If, as we have also advocated, both operational managers and senior managers participated in such training, senior management would be on the record for its assessment of the scenarios including how they weighed, incorporated and assessed conflicting goals in their decisions.  This could have the salutary effect of empowering lower level managers to make tough calls where assuring safety has real impacts on other organizational priorities.  Perhaps senior management would prefer to simply preach goals and principles, and leave the tough balancing that is necessary to implement the goals to their management chain.  If decisions become shaded in the “wrong” direction but there are no bad outcomes, senior management looks good.  But if there is a bad outcome, lower level managers can be blamed, more “training” prescribed, and senior management can reiterate its “safety is the first priority” mantra.

*  In the paper we quote from an article that highlighted the weakness of “Most experts made things worse.  Those managers who did well gathered information before acting, thought in terms of complex-systems interactions instead of simple linear cause and effect, reviewed their progress, looked for unanticipated consequences, and corrected course often. Those who did badly relied on a fixed theoretical approach, did not correct course and blamed others when things went wrong.”  Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22, 2005, p. 10 regarding Dietrich Dörner’s book, The Logic of Failure.  For a comprehensive review of the practice of nuclear safety, see our paper “Practicing Nuclear Safety Management”, March 2008.

**  M. Schrage, "How the Navy SEALS Train for Leadership Excellence," Harvard Business Review (May 28, 2015).

***  Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of the book Serious Play among others.  Serious Play refers to experiments with models, prototypes, and simulations.

Friday, June 5, 2015

NRC Staff Review of National Research Council Safety Culture Recommendations Arising from Fukushima

On July 30, 2014 we reviewed the safety culture (SC) aspects of the National Research Council report on lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident.  We said the report’s SC recommendations were pretty limited: the NRC and industry must maintain and monitor a strong SC in all safety-related activities, the NRC must maintain its independence from outside influences, and the NRC and industry should increase their transparency about their SC-related efforts.

The NRC staff reviewed the report’s recommendations, assessed whether the agency was addressing them and documented their results.*  Given the low bar, it’s no surprise the staff concluded “that all NAS’s recommendations are being adequately addressed.” (p.1)  Following is the evidence the staff assembled to show the NRC is addressing the SC recommendations.

Emphasis on Safety Culture (pp. 25-26) 

In 1989, after Peach Bottom plant operators were caught sleeping on the job, the NRC issued a “Policy Statement on the Conduct of Nuclear Power Plant Operations.”   The policy statement focused on personal dedication and accountability but also underscored management’s responsibility for fostering a healthy SC.

In 1996, after Millstone whistleblowers faced retaliation, the NRC issued another policy statement, “Freedom of Employees in the Nuclear Industry to Raise Safety Concerns without Fear of Retaliation.”  This policy statement focused on the NRC’s expectation that all licensees will establish and maintain a safety-conscious work environment (SCWE).

In 2002, after discovery of the Davis-Besse reactor pressure vessel’s degradation, the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) was strengthened to detect potential SC weaknesses during inspections and performance assessments.  ROP changes were described in Regulatory Issue
Summary 2006-13, “Information on the Changes Made to the Reactor Oversight Process to More Fully Address Safety Culture.”

In 2004, INPO published “Principles for a Strong Nuclear Safety Culture.”  In 2009, an industry/NEI/INPO effort produced a process for monitoring and improving SC, documented in NEI 09-07 “Fostering a Strong Nuclear Safety Culture.”  We reviewed NEI 09-07 on Jan. 6, 2011.

In 2008, the NRC initiated an effort to define and expand SC policy.  The final Safety Culture Policy Statement (SCPS) was published on June 14, 2011.  We posted eight times on the SCPS effort before the policy was issued.  Click on the SC Policy Statement label to see both those posts and subsequent ones that refer to the SCPS. 

An Independent Regulator (pp. 26-27)

The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 established the NRC.  Principal Congressional oversight of the agency is performed by the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, and the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment.  It’s not clear how the NRC performing obeisance before these committees contributes to the agency’s independence.

The NRC receives independent oversight from the NRC’s Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Perhaps most relevant, the U.S. is a contracting party to the international Convention on Nuclear Safety.  The NRC prepares a periodic report describing how the U.S. fulfills its obligations under the CNS, including maintaining the independence of the regulatory body.  On March 26, 2014 we posted on the NRC’s most recent report.

Industry Transparency (pp. 27-28)

For starters, the NRC touts its SC website which includes the SCPS and SC-related educational and outreach materials.

In March 2014, the NRC published NUREG-2165, “Safety Culture Common Language,” which
documents a common language to describe SC in the nuclear industry.  We reviewed the NUREG on April 6, 2014.

That’s all.

Our Perspective 

We’ll give the NRC a passing grade on its emphasis on SC.  The “evidence” on agency independence is slim.  Some folks believe that regulatory capture has occurred, to a greater or lesser degree.  For what it’s worth, we think the agency is fairly independent.

The support for industry transparency is a joke.  As we said in our July 30, 2014 post, “the nuclear industry’s penchant for secrecy is a major contributor to the industry being its own worst enemy in the court of public opinion.”     

NRC Staff Review of National Academy of Sciences Report, “Lessons Learned from theFukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plants” (Apr. 9, 2015).  ADAMS ML15069A600.  The National Research Council is part of the National Academy of Sciences.