Showing posts with label Entergy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Entergy. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Catching Up with Nuclear Safety Culture’s Bad Boys: Entergy and TVA

Entergy Headquarters
TVA Headquarters
We haven’t reported for awhile on the activities of the two plant operators who dominate the negative news in the Nuclear Safety Culture (NSC) space, viz., Entergy and TVA.  Spoiler alert: there is nothing novel or unexpected to report, only the latest chapters in their respective ongoing sagas.

Entergy

On March 12, 2018 the NRC issued a Confirmatory Order* (CO) to Entergy for violations at the Grand Gulf plant: (1) an examination proctor provided assistance to trainees and (2) nonlicensed operators did not tour all required watch station areas and entered inaccurate information into the operator logs.  The NRC characterized these as willful violations.  As has become customary, Entergy requested Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).  Entergy agreed to communicate fleet-wide the company’s intolerance for willful misconduct, evaluate why prior CO-driven corrective actions failed to prevent the current violations, conduct periodic effectiveness reviews of corrective actions, and conduct periodic “organizational health surveys” to identify NSC concerns that could contribute to willful misconduct.

On March 29, 2018 the NRC reported** on Arkansas Nuclear One’s (ANO’s) progress in implementing actions required by a June 17, 2016 Confirmatory Action Letter (CAL).  (We reported at length on ANO’s problems on June 25, 2015 and June 16, 2016.)  A weak NSC has been a major contributor to ANO’s woes.  The NRC inspection team concluded that all but one corrective actions were implemented and effective and closed those items.  The NRC also concluded that actions taken to address two inspection focus areas and two Yellow findings were also satisfactory.

On April 20, 2018 the NRC reported*** on ANO’s actions to address a White inspection finding.  They concluded the actions were satisfactory and noted that ANO’s root cause evaluation had identified nine NSC aspects with weaknesses.  Is that good news because they identified the weaknesses or bad news because they found so many?  You be the judge.


On June 18, 2018 the NRC closed**** ANO's CAL and moved the plant into column 1 of the Reactor Oversight Process Action Matrix.

TVA

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted an Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) review***** of Sequoyah during August 14-31, 2017.  The team reviewed plant operational safety performance
vis-√†-vis IAEA safety standards and made appropriate recommendations and suggestions.  Two of the three significant recommendations have an NSC component: (1) “improve the performance of management and staff in challenging inappropriate behaviours” and “improve the effectiveness of event investigation and corrective action implementation . . .” (p. 2)

Focusing on NSC, the team observed: “The procedure for nuclear safety culture self-assessments does not include a sufficiently diverse range of tools necessary to gather all the information required for effective analysis. The previous periodic safety culture self-assessment results were based on surveys but other tools, such as interviews, focus groups and observations, were only used if the survey revealed any gaps.” (p. 60)

On March 14, 2018 the NRC reported^ on Watts Bar’s progress in addressing NRC CO EA-17-022 and Chilling Effect Letter (CEL) EA-16-061, and licensee action to establish and maintain a safety-conscious work environment (SCWE).  (We discussed the CEL on March 25, 2016 and NSC/SCWE problems on Nov. 14, 2016.)  Licensee actions with NSC-related components were noted throughout the report including the discussions on plant communications, training, work processes and independent oversight.  The sections on assessing NSC/SCWE and “Safety Over Production” included inspection team observations (aka opportunities for improvement) which were shared with the licensee. (pp. 10-11, 17, 24-27)  One TVA corrective action was to establish a Fleet Safety Culture Peer Team, which has been done.  The overall good news is the report had no significant NSC-related negative findings.  Focus group participants were generally positive about NSC and SCWE but expressed concern about “falling back into old patterns” and “declaring success too soon.” (p. 27)

Our Perspective

For Entergy, it looks like business as usual, i.e., NSC
Whac-A-Mole.  They get caught or self-report an infraction, go to ADR, and promise to do better at the affected site and fleet-wide.  Eventually a new problem arises somewhere else.  The strength of their overall NSC appears to be floating in a performance band below satisfactory but above intolerable.

We are a bit more optimistic with respect to TVA.  It would be good if TVA could replicate some of Sequoyah’s (which has managed to keep its nose generally clean) values and practices at Browns Ferry and Watts Bar.  Perhaps their fleet wide initiative will be a mechanism for making that happen.

We applaud the NRC inspection team for providing specific information to Watts Bar on actions the plant could take to strengthen its NSC.

Bottom line: The Sequoyah OSART report is worth reviewing for its detailed reporting of the team’s observations of unsafe (or at least questionable) employee work behaviors.


*  K.M. Kennedy (NRC) to J.A. Ventosa (Entergy), “Confirmatory Order, NRC Inspection Report 05000416/2017014, and NRC Investigation Reports 4-2016-004 AND 4-2017-021” (Mar. 12, 2018).  ADAMS ML18072A191.

**  N.F. O’Keefe (NRC) to R.L. Anderson (Entergy), “Arkansas Nuclear One – NRC Confirmatory Action Letter (EA-16-124) Follow-up Inspection Report 05000313/2018012 AND 05000368/2018012” (Mar. 29, 2018).  ADAMS ML18092A005.

***  N.F. O’Keefe (NRC) to R.L. Anderson (Entergy), “Arkansas Nuclear One, Unit 2 – NRC Supplemental Inspection Report 05000368/2018040” (Apr. 20, 2018).  ADAMS ML18110A304.


****  K.M. Kennedy (NRC) to R.L. Anderson (Entergy), "Arkansas Nuclear One – NRC Confirmatory Action Letter (EA-16-124) Follow-up Inspection Report 05000313/2018013 AND 05000368/2018013 and Assessment Follow-up Letter" (Jun. 18, 2018)  ADAMS ML18165A206.

 *****  IAEA Operational Safety Review Team (OSART), Report of the Mission to the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant Aug. 14-31, 2017, IAEA-NSNI/OSART/195/2017.  ADAMS ML18061A036. The document date in the NRC library is Mar. 2, 2018.

^  A.D. Masters (NRC) to J.W. Shea “Watts Bar Nuclear Plant – Follow-up for NRC Confirmatory Order EA-17-022 and Chilled Work Environment Letter EA-16-061; NRC INSPECTION REPORT 05000390/2017009, 05000391/2017009” (Mar. 14, 2018).  ADAMS ML18073A202.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nuclear Safety Culture: Another Incident at Pilgrim: Tailgate Party

Pilgrim
The Cape Cod Times recently reported* on a security violation at the Pilgrim nuclear plant: one employee entering a secure area facilitated “tailgating” by a second employee who had forgotten his badge.  He didn’t want to go to Security to obtain clearance for entry because that would make him late for work.

The NRC determined the pair were deliberately taking a shortcut but were not attempting to do something malicious.  The NRC investigation also revealed that other personnel, including security, had utilized the same shortcut in the past to allow workers to exit the plant.  The result of the investigation was a Level IV violation for the plant.

Of course, the plant’s enemies are on this like a duck on a June bug, calling the incident alarming and further evidence for immediate shutdown of the plant.  Entergy, the plant’s owner, is characterized as indifferent to such activities. 

The article’s high point was reporting that the employee who buzzed in his fellow worker told investigators “he did not know he was not allowed to do that”.

Our Perspective 


The incident itself was a smallish deal, not a big one.  But it does score a twofer because it reflects on both safety culture and security culture.  Whichever category it goes in, the incident is a symptom of a poorly managed plant and a culture that has long tolerated shortcuts.  It is one more drop in the bucket as Pilgrim shuffles** toward the exit.

This case raises many questions: What kind of training, including refresher training, does staff receive about security procedures?  What kind of oversight, reminders, reinforcement and role modeling do they get from their supervisors and higher-level managers?  Why was the second employee reluctant to take the time to follow the correct procedure?  Would he have been disciplined, or even fired, for being late?  We would hope Pilgrim management doesn’t put everyone who forgets his badge in the stocks, or worse.

Bottom line: Feel bad for the people who have to work in the Pilgrim environment, be glad it’s not you or your workplace.


*  C. Legere, “NRC: Pilgrim workers ‘deliberately’ broke rules,” Cape Cod Times (July 24, 2017).  Retrieved July 26, 2017

**  In this instance, “shuffle” has both its familiar meaning of “dragging one's feet” and a less-used definition of “avoid a responsibility or obligation.”  Google dictionary retrieved July 27, 2017.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nuclear Safety Culture Update at Pilgrim and Watts Bar

Pilgrim

Watts Bar
A couple of recent reports address the nuclear safety culture (NSC) problems at Pilgrim and Watts Bar.  This post summarizes the reports and provides our perspective on their content.  Spoiler alert: there is not much new in this news.

Pilgrim

The NRC issued their report* on phase C of their IP 95003 inspection at Pilgrim.  This is the phase where the NRC conducts its own assessment of the plant’s NSC.  The overall finding in the cover letter is: “The NRC determined that programs and processes at PNPS [Pilgrim] adequately support nuclear safety and that PNPS should remain in Column 4.”  However, the letter goes on to detail a host of deficiencies.  The relative good news is that Pilgrim’s NSC shortcomings weren’t sufficiently serious or interesting to merit mention in the cover letter.

But the NRC had plenty to say about NSC in the main report.  Highlights include the finding that NSC is a “fundamental problem” at Pilgrim.  NSC gradually deteriorated over time and “actions to balance competing priorities, manage problems, and prioritize workload resulted in reduced safety margins.”  Staffing reduction initiatives exacerbated plant performance problems.  Personnel were challenged to exhibit standards and expectations in conservative decision-making, work practices, and procedure use and adherence.  Contributing factors to performance shortcomings include lack of effective benchmarking of industry standards and the plant’s planned 2019 permanent shutdown.  The NRC also noted weaknesses in the Executive Review Board, Employee Concerns Program and the Nuclear Safety Culture Monitoring Panel. (pp. 8-10)

Watts Bar

In April the TVA inspector general (IG) issued a report** castigating TVA management for allowing a chilled work environment (CWE) to continue to exist at Watts Bar.  The IG report’s findings included: TVA's analyses and its response to the NRC’s CWE letter were incomplete and inadequate; TVA's planned corrective actions are unlikely to have long-term effectiveness; precursors of the CWE went unrecognized by management; and management has inappropriately influenced the outcome of analyses and investigations pertaining to Watts Bar NSC/SCWE issues.  Staff stress, fear and trust issues also exist.

In response, TVA management pointed out the corrective actions that were taken or are underway since the first draft of the IG report was issued.  Additionally, TVA management “has expressly acknowledged management's role in creating the condition and its responsibility for correcting it."

Our Perspective

This is merely a continuation of a couple of sad stories we’ve been reporting on for a long time.  Click on the Entergy, Pilgrim, TVA or Watts Bar labels to get our earlier reports. 

The finding that Pilgrim did not adequately benchmark against industry standards is appalling. 
Entergy operates a fleet of nuclear plants and they don’t know what industry standards are?  Whatever.  Entergy is closing all the plants they purchased outside their service territory, hopefully to increase their attention on their utility-owned plants (where Arkansas Nuclear One remains a work in progress). 

We applaud the TVA IG for shining a light on the agency’s NSC issues.  In response to the IG report, TVA management put out a typical mea culpa accompanied by claims that their current corrective actions will fix the CWE and other NSC problems.  Well, their prior actions were ineffective and these actions will also probably fall short.  It doesn’t really matter.  TVA is too big to fail, both politically and economically, and their nuclear program will likely continue to plod along forever.


*  D.H. Dorman (NRC) to J. Dent (TVA), “Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station – Supplemental Inspection Report (Inspection Procedure 95003 Phase ‘C’) 05000293/2016011 and Preliminary Greater-than-Green Finding” (May 10, 2017).  ADAMS ML17129A217.

**  TVA Inspector General, “NTD Consulting Group, LLC's Assessment of TVA's Evaluation of the Chilled Work Environment at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant - 2016-16702” (April 19, 2017).  Also see D. Flessner, “TVA inspector general says safety culture problems remain at Watts Bar,” Chattanooga Times Free Press (April 21, 2017).  Retrieved May 25, 2017.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Nuclear Safety Culture at the 2017 NRC Regulatory Information Conference

NRC 2017 RIC
Nuclear Safety Culture (NSC) was assigned one technical session at the 2017 NRC Regulatory Information Conference (RIC).  The topic was maintaining a strong NSC during plant decommissioning.  This post reviews the session presentations and provides our perspective on the topic.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)*

The presenter discussed the agency’s expectations that the requirements of the SC Policy Statement will continue to be met during decommissioning, recognizing that plant old-timers may experience issues with trust, commitment and morale while newcomers, often contractors, will need to be trained and managed to meet NSC standards going forward.  The presentation was on-target but contained no new information or insights.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)**

This presentation covered the IAEA documents that discuss NSC, viz., the General Safety Requirement “Leadership and Management for Safety,” and the Safety Guides “Application of the Management System for Facilities and Activities,” which covers NSC characteristics, and “The Management System for Nuclear Installations,” which covers NSC assessments, plus supporting IAEA Safety Reports and Technical Documents.  There was one slide covering decommissioning issues, none of which was new.

The slides were dense with turgid text; this presentation must have been excruciating to sit through.  The best part was IAEA did not attempt to add any value through some new approach or analysis, which always manages to muck up the delivery of any potentially useful information. 

Kewaunee***

The Kewaunee plant was shut down on May 7, 2013.  The shutdown announcement on Oct. 22, 2012 was traumatic for the staff and they went through several stages of grieving.  Management has worked to maintain transparency and an effective corrective action program, and retain people who can accept changing conditions.  It is a challenge for management to maintain a strong NSC as the plant transitions to long-term SAFSTOR.

It’s not surprising that Kewaunee is making the best of what is undoubtedly an unhappy situation for many of those involved.  The owner, Dominion Resources, has a good reputation in NSC space.

Vermont Yankee****

This plant was shut down on Dec. 29, 2014.  The site continued applying its process to monitor for NSC issues but some concerns still arose (problems in radiation practices, decline in industrial safety performance) that indicated an erosion in standards.  Corrective actions were developed and implemented.  A Site Review Committee provides oversight of NSC.

The going appears a little rougher at Vermont Yankee than Kewaunee.  This is not a surprise given both the plant and its owner (Entergy) have had challenges in maintaining a strong NSC. 

Our Perspective

The session topic reflects a natural life cycle: industrial facilities are built, operate and then close down.  But that doesn’t mean it’s painless to manage through the phase changes. 

In an operating plant, complacency is a major threat.  Complacency opens the door to normalization of deviation and other gremlins that move performance toward the edge of the envelope.  In the decommissioning phase, we believe loss of fear is a major threat.  Loss of fear of dramatic, even catastrophic radiological consequences (because the fuel has been off-loaded and the plant will never operate again) can lead to losing focus, lack of attention to procedural details, short cuts and other behaviors that can have significant negative consequences such as industrial accidents or mishandling of radioactive materials.

In a “Will the last person out please turn off the lights” environment, maintaining everyone’s focus on safety is challenging for people who operated the plant, often spending a large part of their careers there.  The lack of local history is a major reason to transfer work to specialty decommissioning contractors as quickly as possible. 

In 2016, NSC didn’t merit a technical session at the RIC; it was relegated to a tabletop presentation.  As the industry shrinks, we hope NSC doesn’t get downgraded to a wall poster.


*  D. Sieracki, “Safety Culture and Decommissioning,” 2017 RIC (Mar. 15, 2017).

**  A. Orrell, “Safety Culture and the IAEA International Perspectives,” 2017 RIC (Mar. 15, 2017).

***  S. Yeun, “Maintaining a Strong Safety Culture after Shutdown,” 2017 RIC (Mar. 15, 2017).

****  C. Chappell, “Safety Culture in Decommissioning: Vermont Yankee Experience,” 2017 RIC (Mar. 15, 2017).

Monday, January 16, 2017

Nuclear Safety Culture and the Shrinking U.S. Nuclear Plant Population

In the last few years, nuclear plant owners have shut down or scheduled for shutdown 17 units totaling over 14,000 MW.  Over half of these units had (or have) nuclear safety culture (NSC) issues sufficiently noteworthy to warrant mention here on Safetymatters.  We are not saying that NSC issues alone have led to the permanent shutdown of any plant, but such issues often accompany poor decision-making that can hasten a plant’s demise.  Following is a roll call of the deceased or endangered plants.

Plants with NSC issues

NSC issues provide windows into organizational behavior; the sizes of issues range from isolated problems to systemic weaknesses.

FitzPatrick

This one doesn’t exactly belong on the list.  Entergy scheduled it for shutdown in Jan. 2017 but instead it will likely be purchased by a white knight, Exelon, in a transaction brokered by the governor of New York.  With respect to NSC, in 2012 FitzPatrick received a Confirmatory Order (CO) after the NRC discovered violations, the majority of which were willful, related to adherence to site radiation protection procedures. 

Fort Calhoun

This plant shut down on Oct. 24, 2016.  According to the owner, the reason was “market conditions.”  It’s hard for a plant to be economically viable when it was shut down for over two years because of scheduled maintenance, flooding, a fire and various safety violations.  The plant kept moving down the NRC Action Matrix which meant more inspections and a third-party NSC assessment.  A serious cultural issue was how the plant staff’s perception of the Corrective Action Program (CAP) had evolved to view the CAP as a work management system rather than the principal way for the plant to identify and fix its problems.  Click on the Fort Calhoun label to pull up our related posts.

Indian Point 2 and 3

Units 2 and 3 are scheduled to shut down in 2020 and 2021, respectively.  As the surrounding population grew, the political pressure to shut them down also increased.  A long history of technical and regulatory issues did not inspire confidence.  In NSC space, they had problems with making incomplete or false statements to the NRC, a cardinal sin for a regulated entity.  The plant received a Notice of Violation (NOV) in 2015 for providing information about a licensed operator's medical condition that was not complete and accurate; they received a NOV in 2014 because a chemistry manager falsified test results.  Our May 12, 2014 post on the latter event is a reader favorite. 

Palisades

This plant had a long history of technical and NSC issues.  It is scheduled for shutdown on Oct. 1, 2018.  In 2015 Palisades received a NOV because it provided information to the NRC that was not complete and accurate; in 2014 it received a CO because a security manager assigned a person to a role for which he was not qualified; in 2012 it received a CO after an operator left the control room without permission and without performing a turnover to another operator.  Click on the Palisades label to pull up our related posts.

Pilgrim

This plant is scheduled for shutdown on May 31, 2019.  It worked its way to column 4 of the Action Matrix in Sept. 2015 and is currently undergoing an IP 95003 inspection, including an in-depth evaluation of the plant’s CAP and an independent assessment of the plant’s NSC.  In 2013, Pilgrim received a NOV because it provided information to the NRC that was not complete and accurate; in 2005 it received a NOV after an on-duty supervisor was observed sleeping in the control room.

San Onofre 2 and 3

These units ceased operations on Jan. 1, 2012.  The proximate cause of death was management incompetence: management opted to replace the old steam generators (S/Gs) with a large, complex design that the vendor had never fabricated before.  The new S/Gs were unacceptable in operation when tube leakage occurred due to excessive vibrations.  NSC was never anything to write home about either: the plant was plagued for years by incidents, including willful violations, and employees claiming they feared retaliation if they reported or discussed such incidents.

Vermont Yankee

This plant shut down on Dec. 29, 2014 ostensibly for “economic reasons” but it had a vociferous group of critics calling for it to go.  The plant evidenced a significant NSC issue in 2009 when plant staff parsed an information request to the point where they made statements that were “incomplete and misleading” to state regulators about tritium leakage from plant piping.  Eleven employees, including the VP for operations, were subsequently put on leave or reprimanded.  Click on the Vermont Yankee label to pull up our related posts.

Plant with no serious or interesting NSC issues 


The following plants have not appeared on our NSC radar in the eight years we’ve been publishing Safetymatters.  We have singled out a couple of them for extremely poor management decisions.

Crystal River basically committed suicide when they tried to create a major containment penetration on their own and ended up with a delaminating containment.  It ceased operations on Sept. 26, 2009.

Kewaunee shut down on May 7, 2013 for economic reasons, viz., the plant owner apparently believed their initial 8-year PPA would be followed by equal or even higher prices in the electricity market.  The owner was wrong.

Rounding out the list, Clinton is scheduled to shut down June 1, 2017; Diablo Canyon 1 and 2 will shut down in 2024 and 2025, respectively; Oyster Creek is scheduled to shut down on June 1, 2019; and Quad Cities 1 and 2 are scheduled to shut down on June 1, 2018 — all for business reasons.

Our Perspective

Bad economics (low natural gas prices, no economies of scale for small units) were the key drivers of these shutdown decisions but NSC issues and management incompetence played important supporting roles.  NSC problems provide ammunition to zealous plant critics but, more importantly, also create questions about plant safety and viability in the minds of the larger public.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Reflections on Nuclear Safety Culture for the New Year

©iStockphoto.com
The start of a new year is an opportunity to take stock of the current situation in the U.S. nuclear industry and reiterate what we believe with respect to nuclear safety culture (NSC).

For us, the big news at the end of 2016 was Entergy’s announcement that Palisades will be shutting down on Oct. 1, 2018.*  Palisades has been our poster child for a couple of things: (1) Entergy’s unwillingness or inability to keep its nose clean on NSC issues and (2) the NRC’s inscrutable decision making on when the plant’s NSC was either unsatisfactory or apparently “good enough.”

We will have to find someone else to pick on but don’t worry, there’s always some new issue popping up in NSC space.  Perhaps we will go to France and focus on the current AREVA and √Člectricit√© de France imbroglio which was cogently summarized in a Power magazine editorial: “At the heart of France’s nuclear crisis are two problems.  One concerns the carbon content of critical steel parts . . . manufactured or supplied by AREVA . . . The second problem concerns forged, falsified, or incomplete quality control reports about the critical components themselves.”**  Anytime the adjectives “forged” or “falsified” appear alongside nuclear records, the NSC police will soon be on the scene.  

Why do NSC issues keep arising in the nuclear industry?  If NSC is so important, why do organizations still fail to fix known problems or create new problems for themselves?  One possible answer is that such issues are the occasional result of the natural functioning of a low-tolerance, complex socio-technical system.  In other words, performance may drift out of bounds in the normal course of events.  We may not be able to predict where such issues will arise (although the missed warning signals will be obvious in retrospect) but we cannot reasonably expect they can be permanently eliminated from the system.  In this view, an NSC can be acceptably strong but not 100% effective.

If they are intellectually honest, this is the implicit mental model that most NSC practitioners and “experts” utilize even though they continue to espouse the dogma that more engineering, management, leadership, oversight, training and sanctions can and will create an actual NSC that matches some ideal NSC.  But we’ve known for years what an ideal NSC should look like, i.e., its attributes, and how responsibilities for creating and maintaining such a culture should be spread across a nuclear organization.***  And we’re still playing Whac-A-Mole.

At Safetymatters, we have promoted a systems view of NSC, a view that we believe provides a more nuanced and realistic view of how NSC actually works.  Where does NSC live in our nuclear socio-technical system?  Well, it doesn’t “live” anywhere.  NSC is, to some degree, an emergent property of the system, i.e., it is visible because of the ongoing functioning of other system components.  But that does not mean that NSC is only an effect or consequence.  NSC is both a consequence and a cause of system behavior.  NSC is a cause through the way it affects the processes that create hard artifacts, such as management decisions or the corrective action program (CAP), softer artifacts like the leadership exhibited throughout an organization, and squishy organizational attributes like the quality of hierarchical and interpersonal trust that permeates the organization like an ether or miasma. 

Interrelationships and feedback loops tie NSC to other organizational variables.  For example, if an organization fixes its problems, its NSC will appear stronger and the perception of a strong NSC will influence other organizational dynamics.  This particular feedback loop is generally reinforcing but it’s not some superpower, as can be seen in a couple of problems nuclear organizations may face: 

Why is a CAP ineffective?  The NSC establishes the boundaries between the desirable, acceptable, tolerable and unacceptable in terms of problem recognition, analysis and resolution.  But the strongest SC cannot compensate for inadequate resources from a plant owner, a systemic bias in favor of continued production****, a myopic focus on programmatic aspects (following the rules instead of searching for a true answer) or incompetence in plant staff. 

Why are plant records falsified?  An organization’s party line usually pledges that the staff will always be truthful with customers, regulators and each other.  The local culture, including its NSC, should reinforce that view.  But fear is always trying to slip in through the cracks—fear of angering the boss, fear of missing performance targets, fear of appearing weak or incompetent, or fear of endangering a plant’s future in an environment that includes the plant’s perceived enemies.  Fear can overcome even a strong NSC.

Our Perspective

NSC is real and complicated but it is not mysterious.  Most importantly, NSC is not some red herring that keeps us from seeing the true causes of underlying organizational performance problems.  Safetymatters will continue to offer you the information and insights you need to be more successful in your efforts to understand NSC and use it as a force for better performance in your organization.

Your organization will not increase its performance in the safety dimension if it continues to apply and reprocess the same thinking that the nuclear industry has been promoting for years.  NSC is not something that can be directly managed or even influenced independent of other organizational variables.  “Leadership” alone will not fix your organization’s problems.  You may protect your career by parroting the industry’s adages but you will not move the ball down the field without exercising some critical and independent thought.

We wish you a safe and prosperous 2017.


*  “Palisades Power Purchase Agreement to End Early,” Entergy press release (Dec. 8,2016).

**  L. Buchsbaum, “France’s Nuclear Storm: Many Power Plants Down Due to Quality Concerns,” Power (Dec. 1, 2016).  Retrieved Jan. 4, 2017.

***  For example, take a look back at INSAG-4 and NUREG-1756 (which we reviewed on May 26, 2015).

****  We can call that the Nuclear Production Culture (NPC).

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Here We Go Again: NRC to Inspect Nuclear Safety Culture at Entergy’s Pilgrim Plant

Pilgrim
Entergy’s Pilgrim station has been in Column 4 of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Action Matrix since September 2015.  Column 4 plants receive more numerous, extensive and intrusive NRC inspections than plants that receive baseline inspections.  Pilgrim is in Column 4 primarily because its Corrective Action Program (CAP) is not effective, i.e., the CAP is not permanently fixing significant plant problems.  Pilgrim’s latest inspection follows NRC Inspection Procedure (IP) 95003.  As part of IP 95003 the NRC will assess the plant’s nuclear safety culture (NSC) to ascertain if a weak NSC is contributing to the plant’s inability or unwillingness to identify, specify, investigate and permanently fix problems.*

Our Perspective

Those are the facts.  Now let’s pull on our really tight crankypants.  Entergy is in a race with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to see which fleet operator can get into the most trouble with the NRC over NSC issues.  We reviewed Entergy’s NSC problems at its different plants in our April 13, 2016 post.  Subsequently, the NRC published its report on NSC issues at Entergy’s Arkansas Nuclear One (ANO) plant, which also was subject to an IP 95003 inspection.  We reviewed the ANO inspection report on June 16, 2016.  That’s all basically bad news.  However, there is one bit of good news: Entergy recently offloaded one of its plants, FitzPatrick, to Exelon, a proven nuclear enterprise with a good track record. 

Did we mention that Pilgrim is on the industrial equivalent of Death Row?  Entergy has announced its plan to shut down the plant on May 31, 2019.**  Local anti-nuclear activists want it shut down immediately.***  Pilgrim will certainly be under increased NRC scrutiny for the rest of its operating life.  The agency says “Should there be indications of degrading performance, we will take additional regulatory actions as needed, . . . up to and including a plant shutdown order.”****  As readers know, the Safetymatters  founders worked in the commercial nuclear industry and are generally supportive of it.  But maybe it’s time to pull the plug at Pilgrim. 

"Can't anybody here play this game?" — Casey Stengel (1890-1975)

*  “NRC to Perform Wide-Ranging Team Inspection at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant; Review Supports Agency’s Increased Oversight,” NRC press release No. I-16-030 (Nov.  28, 2016).  A.L. Burritt (NRC) to J. Dent (Entergy), “Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station – Notification of Inspection Procedure 95003 Phase ‘C’ Inspection” (Oct. 13, 2016).  ADAMS ML16286A592.

**  “Entergy Intends to Refuel Pilgrim in 2017; Cease Operations on May 31, 2019” (April 14, 2016).  Retrieved Nov. 29, 2016.

***  “Protesters Demand Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant Be Shut Down Now,” CapeCod.com (Nov. 28, 2016).  Retrieved Nov. 29, 2016.

****  “Additional NRC Oversight at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant,” an NRC webpage.  The quote is under the Assessment Results tab.  Retrieved Nov. 29, 2016.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nuclear Safety Culture at ANO—the NRC Weighs In

Arkansas Nuclear One (credit: Edibobb)
On June 25, 2015 we posted about Arkansas Nuclear One’s (ANO) performance problems (a stator drop, inadequate flood protection and unplanned scrams) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC's) reaction.  The NRC assigned ANO to column 4 of the Action Matrix where it receives the highest level of oversight for an operating plant.  As part of this increased oversight, the NRC conducted a comprehensive inspection of ANO performance, programs and processes.  A lengthy inspection report* was recently issued.

According to the NRC press release** the inspection team identified the following major issues:

“Resource reductions and leadership behaviors were the most significant causes for ANO’s declining performance. . . . ANO management did not reduce workloads through efficiencies or the elimination of unnecessary work, . . . Leaders . . . did not address expanding work backlogs***. . . . An unexpected increase in employee attrition between 2012 and 2014 caused a loss in experienced personnel, . . . Since 2007, the reduced resources created a number of changes that slowly began to impact equipment reliability.  The Entergy fleet reduced preventive maintenance and extended the time between some maintenance activities.”

The press release goes on to list numerous ANO corrective actions and NRC observations that suggest the potential for improved plant performance.

What About ANO’s Safety Culture?

The press release also mentions that the inspection team evaluated the adequacy of a 2015 Third Party Nuclear Safety Culture Assessment (TPNSCA) conducted at ANO.  The press release gives short shrift to the key role a weak safety culture (SC) played in creating ANO’s problems in the first place and the extensive SC questions raised and diagnostics performed by the NRC inspection team.

Last June, based on NRC and ANO meeting presentations, we concluded “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.”  These are serious deficiencies.  Do the same or similar problems appear in the inspection report?  To answer that question, we need to dig into the details of the 243 page report.

The Cover Letter

Top-level SC problems are included in the NRC cover letter which says “The inspection team identified what it considered to be missed opportunities for ANO to have promptly initiated performance improvements since being placed in Column 4.  More specifically, ANO: 1) was slow to implement corrective actions to address the findings from the Corrective Action Program cause evaluation and the Third Party Nuclear Safety Culture Assessment; 2) did not perform an evaluation of the causes for safety culture problems; . . .” (letter, p. 2)

Executive Summary

The report's Executive Summary says “The Third Party Nuclear Safety Culture Assessment identified that ANO personnel tolerated, and at times normalized, degraded conditions.”  Expanding on the missed opportunities comment in the cover letter, “the NRC team’s independent safety culture evaluation noted limited improvement in safety culture since the completion of ANO’s independent Third Party Nuclear Safety Culture Assessment.” (report p. 5)  “ANO did not create a specific improvement plan to address the findings of the safety culture assessments, choosing to address selected safety culture attributes that were associated with root cause evaluations rather than treating the findings in the context of a separate problem area.  By not performing a cause evaluation for safety culture, ANO management missed the opportunity to address the full scope of safety culture weaknesses.” (pp. 5-6)

Review of ANO Recovery Plan 


The NRC’s critique of ANO’s Recovery Plan included “The NRC team questioned the recovery team’s decision not to perform casual evaluations of the PAs [Problem Areas].  In response, ANO performed apparent cause evaluations (ACEs) or gap analyses for each PA.  The NRC team questioned the recovery team’s decision not to perform causal evaluations for the safety culture attributes identified in [a 2014] . . . safety culture survey, the TPNSCA, and the RCEs [Root Cause Evaluations].  The team also questioned the recovery team’s decision not to treat safety culture as a separate problem area.” (p. 21)

This is an example where the NRC was still identifying ANO’s overarching problems for the plant staff.

Review of RCEs for Fundamental Problem Areas

“ANO’s Vendor Oversight RCE identified weak implementation of administrative controls and placing undue confidence in vendor services as common cause failures. However, ANO did not assess the underlying safety culture aspects.” (p. 110, emphasis added)

This is not “blame the vendor” but is a different serious problem, viz., an over-reliance on vendor activities to protect the customer.  (This problem is not unique to ANO; it also might exist at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.  See our May 3, 2016 post for details.)

Inspection Report Chapter on SC

The NRC team conducted its own assessment of ANO’s SC. The NRC team interviewed personnel at all levels, conducted focus group discussions, performed behavioral observations, reviewed documents and relevant plant programs, and evaluated plant management meetings.  Overall, they assessed all ten SC traits using the full set of SC attributes contained in NRC documentation.  For each trait, the report includes its attributes, inspection team observations and findings, and relevant ANO corrective actions.

The team also reviewed seven RCEs and concluded ANO addressed the major SC attributes identified in each RCE.  However, “The NRC team noted that ANO identified that some safety culture attributes were contributors to several of the RCE problem statements, but ANO did not consider the collective significance.” (p. 184)

ANO took the hint.  “In response to the NRC team’s concerns, ANO performed a common cause analysis of all of the safety culture attributes that were identified in the recovery RCEs in order to assess the collective significance and causes.” (p. 185)  ANO developed a SC Area Action Plan (AAP) and the NRC concluded “The corrective actions identified in the NSC AAP were comprehensive and appropriate to address the causes for safety culture weaknesses.” (p. 186)

“The NRC team’s graded safety culture assessment independently confirmed the results from the TPNSCA.” (p. 188)

“The NRC team was concerned that the SCLT’s [Safety Culture Leadership Team, senior managers] conclusion that ANO’s safety culture was “adequate” in August 2015 did not appropriately reflect the data provided by, or the recommendations from, the NSCMP [Nuclear Safety Culture Monitoring Panel, mid-level personnel].  This SCLT conclusion did not reflect the declining condition with respect to safety culture and indicated a lack of awareness that improvements in safety culture at ANO were needed.”  The SCLT eventually came around and in December 2015 declared that ANO’s SC was not acceptable. (p. 192)

Our Perspective

The NRC is optimistic that ANO has correctly identified the root causes of its performance problems and has undertaken corrective actions that will ultimately prove effective.  We hope so but we’ll go with “trust but verify” on this one.  ANO still exhibits problems with incomplete analyses and leaning on the NRC to identify systemic deficiencies.

The NRC team took a good look at ANO's SC.  Quite frankly, their effort was more comprehensive than we expected.  They used an acceptable methodology for their SC assessment.  The fact that their assessment findings were consistent with the TPNSCA is not surprising.  SC evaluation is a robust social science activity and qualified SC evaluators using similar techniques should obtain generally comparable results.

We believe the NRC’s SC professionals are qualified and competent but probably encouraged to support the overall inspection findings.  The elephant in the room is that SC is a policy, not a regulation.  Would the NRC keep a plant in column 4 based solely on their belief that the plant SC is deficient?  Look at the contortions the agency performed at Palisades as that plant’s SC somehow went from weak, with constant problems, to “improving” and, we inferred, acceptable.  (See our Jan. 30, 2013 post for details.)

There may have been a bit of similar magical thinking at ANO.  In the inspection report, every SC trait had examples of shortcomings but also had “appropriate” corrective actions to improve performance.****  How can this be when ANO (and Entergy) have been so slow to grasp the systemic nature of their SC problems?

Let’s close on a different note.  Earlier this year ANO named a full-time SC manager, a person whose background is in plant security.  On the surface, this is an “unfiltered” choice.  (See our March 10, 2016 post for a discussion of filtering in personnel decisions.)  He may be exactly the type of person ANO needs to make SC improvements happen.  We wish him well.


*  M. L. Dapas (NRC) to J. Browning (ANO), “Arkansas Nuclear One – NRC Supplemental Inspection Report 05000313/2016007 and 05000368/2016007” (June 9, 2016).  ADAMS ML16161B279.

**  V. Dricks, Press Release, “NRC Issues Comprehensive Inspection Report on Arkansas Nuclear One” (June 13, 2015).

***  We have often noted that large backlogs, especially of safety-related work, are an artifact of a weak SC.

****  One trait was judged to have no significant issues so corrective action was not needed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Criminalization of Safety (Part 1)

US DOJ logo
Nuclear safety management and culture relies on nuclear personnel conducting themselves in accordance with espoused values and making safety the highest priority.  When failures occur individual workers may be (and often are) blamed but broader implications are generally portrayed as an organizational culture deficiency and addressed in that context.  

Only rarely does the specter of criminality enter the picture, requiring a level of malfeasance - intentional conduct or recklessness - that is beyond the boundaries of conventional safety culture. 

The potential for criminal liability raises several issues.  What is the nexus between safety culture and criminal behavior?  What is the significance of the increased frequency of criminal prosecutions following major accidents or scandals in nuclear and other industries?  And where does culpability really lie - with individuals? culture? the corporation? or the complex socio-technical systems within which individuals act?

If one has been paying close attention to the news fairly numerous examples of criminal prosecutions involving safety management issues across a variety of industries and regulatory bodies is occurring.  It is becoming quite a list of late.  We thought this would be an appropriate time to take stock of these trends and their implications for nuclear safety management.

Recent Experience

We have prepared a table* summarizing relevant experience from the nuclear and other high risk industries.  (The link is to a pdf file as it is impractical to display the complete table within this blog post.)  Below is a table snippet showing a key event: the criminal prosecutions associated with the Davis Besse reactor vessel head corrosion in 2001/2002. First Energy, the owner/operator, pleaded guilty to criminal charges and two lower level employees were found guilty at trial.  A third individual, a contractor working for First Energy, was acquitted at trial.



More currently high level executives of TEPCO, the owner/operator of the Fukushima plant in Japan, were charged, though the circumstances are a bit odd.  Prosecutors had twice declined to bring criminal charges but were ultimately overruled by a citizens panel.  The case is expected to be difficult to prove.  Nonetheless this is an attempt to hold the former TEPCO Chairman and heads of the nuclear division criminally accountable.

The only other recent examples in the U.S. nuclear industry that we could identify involved falsification of documents, in one instance by a chemistry manager at Indian Point and the other a security officer at River Bend.**  One has pleaded guilty and sentenced to probation; the other case has been referred to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Looking beyond nuclear, the picture is dominated by several major operational accidents - the Deepwater Horizon drill rig explosion and the explosion of the Upper Big Branch coal mine owned by Massey Energy.  Deepwater resulted in guilty pleas by the three corporations involved in the drilling operation - BP, Transocean and Halliburton - with massive criminal and civil fines.  BP’s plea included felony manslaughter.  Several employees also faced criminal charges.  Two faced involuntary manslaughter charges in addition to violations of the Clean Water Act.  The manslaughter charges were later dropped by prosecutors.  One employee pleaded guilty to the Clean Water Act violations and was sentenced to probation, the other went to trial and was acquitted.

The Massey case is noteworthy in that criminal charges ultimately climbed the corporate ladder all the way to the CEO.  Ultimately he was acquitted of felony charges of securities fraud and making false statements, but he “was convicted of a single count of conspiring to violate federal safety standards; he was not convicted of any count holding him responsible for the 2010 accident at the Upper Big Branch mine.”***  It “is widely believed to be the first CEO of a major U.S. corporation to be convicted of workplace safety related charges following an industrial accident.”****  Three other individuals also pleaded or were found guilty of misdemeanor charges.

Next up are the auto companies, GM, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi.  The GM scandal involved the installation of faulty ignition switches in cars that subsequently resulted in a number of deaths.  GM entered into a plea agreement with DOJ admitting criminal wrongdoing and paid large monetary fines.  As of this time no criminal charges have been brought against GM employees.  VW and Mitsubishi have both admitted to manipulating fuel economy and emissions testing and there is speculation that other auto manufacturers could be in the same boat.  The investigations are ongoing at this time but criminal pleas at the corporate level are all but certain.

Last in this pantheon is the city of Flint water quality scandal.  The Attorney General of Michigan recently filed criminal charges against three individuals and promised “more charges soon”.  The interesting aspect here is that the three charged are all government workers - one for the city and two for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  And the two state officials have been charged with misconduct in office, a felony.  Essentially regulators are being held accountable for their oversight.  As David Ullmann, a former chief of DOJ’s environmental crimes section, stated, “It’s extremely unusual and maybe unprecedented for state and local officials to be charged with criminal drinking water violations.”  This bears watching.

In Part 2 we will analyze the trends in these cases and draw some insights into the possible significance of efforts to criminalize safety performance.  In Part 3 we will offer our observations regarding implications for nuclear safety management and some thoughts on approaches to mitigate the need for criminalization.



Criminal Prosecutions of Safety Related Events (May 22, 2016).

**  We posted on the Indian Point incident on May 12, 2014 and the River Bend case on Feb. 20, 2015.

***  A. Blinder, "Mixed Verdict for Donald Blankenship, Ex-Chief of Massey Energy, After Coal Mine Blast," New York Times (Dec. 3, 2015 corrected Dec. 5, 2015).

****  K. Maher, "Former Massey Energy CEO Sentenced to 12 Months in Prison," Wall Street Journal (April 6, 2016).  The full article may only be accessible to WSJ subscribers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Is Entergy’s Nuclear Safety Culture Hurting the Company or the Industry?

Entergy Headquarters  Source: Nola.com
A recent NRC press release* announced a Confirmatory Order (CO) issued to Entergy Operations, Inc. following an investigation that determined workers at Waterford 3 failed to perform fire inspections and falsified records.  Regulatory action directed at an Entergy plant has a familiar ring and spurs us to look at various problems that have arisen in Entergy’s fleet over the years.  The NRC has connected the dots to safety culture (SC) in some cases while other problems suggest underlying cultural issues. 

Utility-Owned Plants

These plants were part of the utility mergers that created Entergy.

Arkansas Nuclear One (ANO)

ANO is currently in Column 4 of the NRC Action Matrix and subject to an intrusive IP 95003 inspection.  ANO completed an independent SC assessment.  We reviewed their problems on June 25, 2015 and concluded “. . . 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.”

In 2013 ANO received a Notice of Violation (NOV) after an employee deliberately falsified documents regarding the performance of Emergency Preparedness drills and communication surveillances.**

Grand Gulf

We are not aware of any SC issues at Grand Gulf.

River Bend

In 2014 Entergy received a CO to document commitments made because of the willful actions of an unidentified River Bend security officer in March 2012.

(In 2014 the NRC Office of Investigations charged that a River Bend security officer had deliberately falsified training records in Oct. 2013.  It appears a subsequent NRC investigation did not substantiate that charge.***)

In 2012 River Bend received a NOV for operators in the control room accessing the internet in violation of an Entergy procedure.

In 2011 River Bend received a CO to document commitments made because an employee apparently experienced retaliatory action after asking questions related to job qualifications.  Corrective actions included Entergy reinforcing its commitment to a safety conscious work environment, reviewing Employee Concerns Program enhancements and conducting a plant wide SC survey.

In 1999 River Bend received a NOV for deliberately providing an NRC inspector with information that was incomplete and inaccurate.

Waterford 3

As noted in the introduction to this post, Waterford 3 recently received a CO because of failure to perform fire inspections and falsifying records.

Entergy Wholesale Plants

These plants were purchased by Entergy and are located outside Entergy’s utility service territory.

FitzPatrick

Entergy purchased FitzPatrick in 2000.

In 2012, FitzPatrick received a CO after the NRC discovered violations, the majority of which were willful, related to adherence to site radiation protection procedures.  Corrective actions included maintaining the SC processes described in NEI 09-07 “Fostering a Strong Nuclear Safety Culture.”

Entergy plans on closing the plant Jan. 27, 2017.

Indian Point

Entergy purchased Indian Point 3 in 2000 and IP2 in 2001.

In 2015 Indian Point received a NOV because it provided information to the NRC related to a licensed operator's medical condition that was not complete and accurate in all material respects.

In 2014 Indian Point received a NOV because a chemistry manager falsified test results.  The manager subsequently resigned and then Entergy tried to downplay the incident.  Our May 12, 2014 post on this event is a reader favorite.

During 2006-08 Indian Point received two COs and three NOVs for its failure to install backup power for the plant’s emergency notification system.

Palisades

Entergy purchased Palisades in 2007.

In 2015 Entergy received a NOV because it provided information to the NRC related to Palisades’ compliance with ASME Code acceptance criteria that was not complete and accurate in all material respects.

In 2014 Entergy received a CO because a Palisades security manager assigned a supervisor to an armed responder role for which he was not currently qualified (see our July 24, 2014 post).

Over 2011-12 a virtual SC saga played out at Palisades.  It is too complicated to summarize here but see our Jan. 30, 2013 post.

In 2012 Palisades received a CO after an operator left the control room without permission and without performing a turnover to another operator.  Corrective actions included conducting a SC assessment of the Palisades Operations department.

Pilgrim

Entergy purchased Pilgrim in 1999.

Like ANO, Pilgrim is also in column 4 of the Action Matrix.  They are in the midst of a three-phase IP 95003 inspection currently focused on corrective action program weaknesses (always a hot button issue for us); a plant SC assessment will be performed in the third phase.

In 2013, Pilgrim received a NOV because it provided information to the NRC related to medical documentation on operators that was not complete and accurate in all material respects.

In 2005 Pilgrim received a NOV after an on-duty supervisor was observed sleeping in the control room. 

Vermont Yankee

Entergy purchased Vermont Yankee in 2002.

During 2009, Vermont Yankee employees made “incomplete and misleading” statements to state regulators about tritium leakage from plant piping.  Eleven employees, including the VP for operations, were subsequently put on leave or reprimanded.  Click the Vermont Yankee label to see our multiple posts on this incident. 

Vermont Yankee ceased operations on Dec. 29, 2014.

Our Perspective

These cases involved behavior that was wrong or, at a minimum, lackadaisical.  It’s not a stretch to infer that a weak SC may have been a contributing factor even where it was not specifically cited.

Only three U.S. nuclear units are in column 4 of the NRC’s Action Matrix—and all three are Entergy plants.  Only TVA comes close to Entergy when it comes to being SC-challenged.

We can’t predict the future but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to plot Entergy’s nuclear trajectory.  One plant is dead and the demise of another has been scheduled.  It will be no surprise if Indian Point goes next; it’s in a densely populated region, occasionally radioactively leaky and a punching bag for New York politicians.

Does Entergy’s SC performance inspire public trust and confidence in the company?  Does their performance affect people's perception of other plants in the industry?  You be the judge.


*  NRC press release, “NRC Issues Confirmatory Order to Entergy Operations, Inc.” (April 8, 2016).  ADAMS ML16099A090.

**  COs and NOVs are summarized from Escalated Enforcement Actions Issued to Reactor Licensees on the NRC website.

***  J.M. Rollins (NRC) to J. McCann (Entergy), Closure of Investigation 014-2014-046 (Jan. 25, 2016.)  ADAMS
ML16025A141.

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).

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)

Friday, February 20, 2015

NRC Office of Investigations 2014 Annual Report: From Cases to Culture

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Investigations (OI) recently released its FY2014 annual report.*  The OI investigates alleged wrongdoing by entities regulated by the NRC; OI’s focus is on willful and deliberate actions that violate NRC regulations and/or criminal statutes.

The OI report showed a definite downward trend in the number of new cases being opened, overall a 41% drop between FY2010 and FY2014.  Only one of the four categories of cases increased over that time frame, viz., material false statements, which held fairly steady through FY2013 but popped in FY2014 to 67% over FY2010.  We find this disappointing because false statements can often be linked to cultural attributes that prioritize getting a job done over compliance with regulations.

The report includes a chapter on “Significant Investigations.”  There were eight such investigations, four involving nuclear power plants.  We have previously reported on two of these cases, the Indian Point chemistry manager who falsified test results (see our May 12, 2014 post) and the Palisades security manager who assigned a supervisor to an armed responder role for which he was not currently qualified (see our July 24, 2014 post).  The other two, summarized below, occurred at River Bend and Salem.

In the River Bend case, a security officer deliberately falsified training records by taking a plant access authorization test for her son, a contractor employed by a plant supplier.  Similar to the Palisades case, Entergy elected alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and ended up with multiple corrective actions including revising its security procedures, establishing new controls for security-related information (SRI), evaluating SRI storage, developing a document highlighting the special responsibilities of nuclear security personnel, establishing decorum protocols for certain security posts, preparing and delivering a lessons learned presentation, conducting an independent third party safety culture (SC) assessment of the River Bend security organization [emphasis added], and delivering refresher training on 10 CFR 50.5 and 50.9.  Most of these requirements are to be implemented fleet-wide, i.e., at all Entergy nuclear plants, not just River Bend.**

The Salem case involved a senior reactor operator who used an illegal substance then performed duties while under its influence.  The NRC issued a Level III Notice of Violation (NOV) to the operator.  The operator’s NRC license was terminated at PSE&G’s request.***  PSE&G was not cited in this case.

Our Perspective

You probably noticed that three of the “significant” cases involved Entergy plants.  Entergy is no stranger to issues with a possible cultural component including the following:****

In 2013, Arkansas Nuclear One received a NOV after an employee deliberately falsified documents regarding the performance of Emergency Preparedness drills and communication surveillances.

In 2012, Fitzpatrick received a Confirmatory Order (Order) after the NRC discovered violations, the majority of which were willful, related to adherence to site radiation protection procedures.

During 2006-08, Indian Point received two Orders and three NOVs for its failure to install backup power for the plant’s emergency notification system.

In 2012, Palisades received an Order after an operator left the control room without permission and without performing a turnover to another operator.  Entergy went to ADR and ended up with multiple corrective actions, some fleet-wide.  We have posted many times about the long-running SC saga at Palisades—click on the Palisades label to pull up the posts. 

In 2005, Pilgrim received a NOV after an on-duty supervisor was observed sleeping in the control room.  In 2013, Pilgrim received a NOV for submitting false medical documentation on operators.

In 2012, River Bend received a NOV for operators in the control room accessing the internet in violation of an Entergy procedure. 

These cases involve behavior that was (at least in hindsight) obviously wrong.  It’s not a stretch to suggest that a weak SC may have been a contributing factor.  So has Entergy received the message?  You be the judge.

“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” ― George Carlin (1937–2008)


*  NRC Office of Investigations, “2014 OI Annual Report,” NUREG-1830, Vol. 11 (Feb. 2015).  ADAMS ML15034A064.

**  M.L. Dapas (NRC) to E.W. Olson (River Bend), “Confirmatory Order, Notice of Violation, and Civil Penalty – NRC Special Inspection Report 05000458/2014407 and NRC Investigation Report 4-2012-022- River Bend Station” (Dec. 3, 2014).  ADAMS ML14339A167.

***  W.M. Dean (NRC) to G. Meekins (an individual), “Notice of Violation (Investigation Report No. 1-2014-013)” (July 9, 2014).  ADAMS ML14190A471.

****  All Entergy-related NRC enforcement actions were obtained from the NRC website.