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January 30, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Thursday, January 30, 2003
Besse put on notice to show job safety
NRC wants utility to raise awareness

By
BLADE STAFF WRITER


LISLE, Ill. - A FirstEnergy Corp. management team today will try to convince government regulators that it has come up with a way to encourage Davis-Besse employees to be more forthcoming about safety issues at the Ottawa County nuclear plant.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants to know how FirstEnergy plans to improve the work atmosphere at Davis-Besse in light of the near-rupture of the plant’s reactor head because of excessive corrosion a year ago. The company’s presentation will be made at the agency’s Midwest regional office west of Chicago.

Jack Grobe, chairman of the NRC oversight panel, said numerous factors contributed to the plant’s deteriorated condition, but many have a common theme: the lack of a so-called "safety culture" and a "safety-conscious work environment."

The phrases have become buzzwords in the nuclear industry since 1996, when management-employee problems were blamed for numerous equipment malfunctions that led to an extensive shutdown of the three-unit Millstone nuclear complex in Connecticut.

Northeast Utilities, the utility that operates that complex, was convicted of falsifying records and accused by the NRC of retaliating against employees who brought problems to the management’s attention.

"Millstone had a well-documented history of harassment and intimidation," said Bill Dean, the Davis-Besse oversight panel’s vice chairman.

Mr. Dean said Davis-Besse’s apparent nonchalant attitude pales in comparison to Millstone’s degree of animosity. "It’s night and day in that regard," he said.

But Davis-Besse is following Millstone as only the second plant to undergo such formal work-atmosphere scrutiny - and a Washington attorney familiar with both cases said she believes Davis-Besse is worse because of the "corporate culture" that led to complacency there.

"At Millstone, even though there was harassment and intimidation of workers, workers found a way to raise concerns," Billie Garde, who specializes in defending nuclear workers, said.

She said it was "astounding" that Davis-Besse workers didn’t raise more issues before the Feb. 16, 2002, shutdown.

"When employees choose silence, you’ve completely shut down," she said. "Once you’ve got a mind-set that workers are afraid to raise concerns, you’ve got to start from scratch."

Though NRC officials are cryptic about what improvements FirstEnergy must make for Davis-Besse to pass the safety-culture test, Mr. Dean acknowledged that Millstone’s efforts will be used as a general benchmark.

One thing that has impressed the NRC, Mr. Dean said, is FirstEnergy’s hiring of an outside expert to walk the company through such issues. Millstone did the same thing in developing its safety-culture plan, he said.

FirstEnergy has contracted with Dr. Sonja B. Haber, a psychologist who specializes in safety culture issues.

FirstEnergy’s plan will demonstrate that the company will start giving more feedback and incentives to employees who come forward with concerns, said Richard Wilkins, a company spokesman.

Safety culture was not absent. "But the kind of consistency you would want wasn’t there," he said.



More articles on this subject »
Whos’ minding nuclear store? 01/26/2003
2 more nuke plants show coolant leaks 01/22/2003
Moyers TV special on Davis-Besse 01/22/2003
NRC admits lengthy timetable for implementing safety reforms 01/15/2003
NRC frets about plant attitudes 01/15/2003

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