Article published Friday, June 13, 2003|
Davis-Besse incident inspires revival of regulatory
By MICHAEL WOODS
ROCKVILLE, Md. - Nuclear safety experts have no
official definition of it. They donít know how to measure it. But
they desperately want it at each of the nationís 103 commercial
Thatís the odd status of an idea called
"safety culture," the topic yesterday at an unusual session of the
Nuclear Regulatory Commissionís safety advisory board.
NRC Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards summoned experts to
agency headquarters to help it decide whether to recommend that the
NRC bolster its regulations with new rules on safety.
would be an upheaval in government regulatory philosophy, with the
NRC moving beyond setting rules for mechanical and electrical
systems and venturing into the realm of management attitudes,
leadership styles, and even corporate ethical values.
have no insight into the safety culture of the utilities," noted
Stephen Rosen, an advisory committee member.
means the collection of characteristics and attitudes found in
nuclear power plant owners and employees who put a high priority on
"We need some mechanism for NRC to remove toxic
leadership," suggested David Collins, an engineering analyst at the
Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Connecticut, noting that
overbearing executives could diminish plant safety.
several other speakers and committee members, Mr. Collins, expressed
reservations about extensive safety culture regulations. Existing
rules, they said, could get the same result, if fully enforced by
The NRC long frowned at the idea of regulating the
attitudes and ideas prevailing at nuclear power plants, and in the
1980 even forbid use of the term, Thomas Murley said. He is a former
NRC regional administrator who helped pioneer the idea.
long last, safety culture is back from the graveyard of forbidden
lexicon in this country," he noted at the
FirstEnergy Corp.ís Davis-Besse Nuclear Power
Station exhumed the idea. Investigators identified a defective
safety culture at the plant as a major reason for the corrosion
incident that has kept Davis-Besse shut down since February,
A leak of corrosive water, which plant managers
overlooked for years while skimping on maintenance, ate a 4-inch by
5-inch hole into the Davis-Besse reactor vessel head. The vessel is
a key safety system that keeps nuclear fuel and radioactive water
inside the reactor.
"The principal causes of Davis-Besse were
cultural," said Jack Grobe, who heads a special NRC panel overseeing
improvements at Davis-Besse. "I think this area is very critical,"
he added, citing belief that other nuclear power plants may have
Lew Meyers, FirstEnergy chief executive
officer, told the advisory panel that safety culture improvements
are among numerous changes made at the site, as it heads toward a
projected restart date in August.
William Keisler, nuclear
power consultant who worked at Davis-Besse in the 1980s, said that
the plantís lax safety culture may be deeply ingrained, noting it
has spanned three major changes in management.
he said, seems to result in serious mishaps at Davis-Besse every 8.5
years. He urged the reactor safeguards panel to recommend safety
culture regulations and also demand that the nuclear industry issue
a code for ethics for all its employees.
ACRS normally allots
a maximum of two hours to important topics, Chairman Mario V. Bonaca
said. "The decision to assign a full day to this topic gives you an
indication of the importance we assign to it."
Apostolakis, who led the ARCS safety culture subcommittee, said
there is no official definition of safety culture.
admit that I really donít know what a good safety culture is and
what a bad one is, and I suspect many of my colleagues donít
The board discussed a range of possible actions,
ranging from recommending that NRC regulate safety culture in
cooperation with an industry group to taking no formal action and
bolstering the safety environment in other ways.