Monday, October 12, 2015

IAEA International Conference on Operational Safety, including Safety Culture

IAEA Building
Back in June, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) hosted an International Conference on Operational Safety.*  Conference sessions covered Peer Reviews, Corporate Management, Post-Fukushima Improvements, Operating Experience, Leadership and Safety Culture and Long Term Operation.  Later, the IAEA published a summary of conference highlights, including conclusions in the session areas.**  It reported the following with respect to safety culture (SC):

“No organization works in isolation: the safety culture of the operator is influenced by the safety culture of the regulator and vice versa. Everything the regulator says or does not say has an effect on the operator. The national institutions and other cultural factors affect the regulatory framework. Corporate leadership is integral to achieving and improving safety culture, the challenge here is that regulators are not always allowed to conduct oversight at the corporate management level.”

Whoa!  This is an example of the kind of systemic thinking that we have been preaching for years.  We wondered who said that so we reviewed all the SC presentations looking for clues.  Perhaps not surprisingly, it was a bit like gold-mining: one has to crush a lot of ore to find a nugget.

Most of the ore for the quote was provided by a SC panelist who was not one of the SC speakers but a Swiss nuclear regulator (and the only regulator mentioned in the SC session program).  Her slide bullets included “The regulatory body needs to take different perspectives on SC: SC as an oversight issue, impact of oversight on licensees’ SC, the regulatory body’s own SC, [and] Self-reflection on its own SC.”  Good advice to regulators everywhere.

As far as we can tell, no presenter made the point that regulators seldom have the authority to oversee corporate management; perhaps that arose during the subsequent discussion.

SC Presentations

The SC presentations contained hearty, although standard fare.  A couple were possibly more revealing, which we’ll highlight later.

The German, Japanese and United Kingdom presentations reviewed their respective SC improvement plans.  In general these plans are focused on specific issues identified during methodical diagnostic investigations.  The plan for the German Philippsburg plant focuses on specific management responsibilities, personnel attitudes and conduct at all hierarchy levels, and communications.  The Japanese plan concentrates on continued recovery from the Fukushima disaster.  TEPCO company-wide issues include Safety awareness, Engineering capability and Communication ability.  The slides included a good system dynamics-type model.  At EDF’s Heysham 2 in the UK, the interventions are aimed at improving management (leadership, decision-making), trust (just culture) and organizational learning.  As a French operator of a UK plant, EDF recognizes they must tune interventions to the local organization’s core values and beliefs.

The United Arab Emirates presentation described a model for their new nuclear organization; the values, traits and attributes come right out of established industry SC guidelines.

The Entergy presenter parroted the NRC/INPO party line on SC definition, leadership responsibility, traits, attributes and myriad supporting activities.  It’s interesting to hear such bold talk from an SC-challenged organization.  Maybe INPO or the NRC “encouraged” him to present at the conference.  (The NRC is not shy about getting licensees with SC issues to attend the Regulatory Information Conference and confess their sins.)

The Russian presentation consisted of a laundry list of SC improvement activities focused on leadership, personnel reliability, observation and cross-cultural factors (for Hanhikivi 1 in Finland).  It was all top-down.  There was nothing about empowering or taking advantage of individuals’ knowledge or experience.  You can make your own inferences.

Management Presentations

We also reviewed the Management sessions for further clues.  All the operator presenters were European and they had similar structures, with “independent” safety performance advisory groups at the plant, fleet and corporate levels.  They all appeared to focus on programmatic strengths and weaknesses in the safety performance area.  There was no indication any of the groups opined on management performance.  The INPO presenter noted that SC is included in every plant and corporate evaluation and SC issues are highlighted in the INPO Executive Summary to a CEO.

Our Perspective

The IAEA press release writer did a good job of finding appealing highlights to emphasize.  The actual presentations were more ordinary and about what you’d expect from anything involving IAEA: build the community, try to not offend anyone.  For example, the IAEA SC presentation stressed the value in developing a common international SC language but acknowledged that different industry players and countries can have their own specific needs.

Bottom line: Read the summary and go to the conference materials if something piques your interest—but keep your expectations modest.

*  International Atomic Energy Agency, International Conference on Operational Safety, June 23-26, 2015, Vienna.

**  IAEA press release, “Nuclear Safety is a Continuum, not a Final Destination” (July 3, 2015).


  1. The following partial quotation is crucial:

    “No organization works in isolation: the safety culture of the operator is influenced by the safety culture of the regulator and vice versa. Everything the regulator says or does not say has an effect on the operator.

  2. The NRC is in bad need of an "Office of Regulatory Hypocrisy" that informs the Commissioners and the public of what the staff is doing that conflicts with what it espouses.

  3. An inescapable fact is that the character of an industry is largely a mirror image of the character of its regulators. Competence, integrity, compliance, and transparency seldom exist on only one side of an industry-regulatory interface.


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