Article published Friday, January 31, 2003|
Psychologist to evaluate work force
FirstEnergy outlines efforts to boost
By TOM HENRY
LISLE, Ill. - Davis-Besse’s future could be
tied in part to the impression FirstEnergy Corp. employees make on a
revered industrial psychologist.
Commission officials said here yesterday they are intrigued by the
method Dr. Sonja Haber plans to use for evaluating Davis-Besse’s
They hedged their enthusiasm just short of
calling it the cornerstone of perhaps the biggest hurdle left for
FirstEnergy to overcome - convincing the government Davis-Besse
workers will be taken seriously when they have the courage to report
"As for the level and depth of questions we’ve
asked about her methodology, I don’t want that to be interpreted as
over-emphasis," Jack Grobe, NRC oversight panel chairman, said.
"It’s just something we haven’t seen before."
presentation that lasted nearly six hours, FirstEnergy outlined
efforts it has made to enhance Davis-Besse’s safety culture since
the plant was idled nearly a year ago by the nation’s worst
reactor-head corrosion. Rust was so advanced the lid could have
ruptured and allowed tons of radioactive steam to form inside the
The NRC has said the problem could have
been avoided if the plant had a more effective method of addressing
FirstEnergy officials showed ways they’ve
tried to revamp conditions inside the plant, from reorganizing the
management team to improving a program in which workers can maintain
anonymity when coming forward.
The company submitted in
writing a list of recently enacted bonus incentives for senior
management officials who meet safety-driven goals - not primarily
those related to production, where the company admits it erred by
placing too much emphasis throughout the 1990s.
First Nuclear Operating Co. chief operating officer, revealed a
color-coded system that will be used to track across-the-board
But the backbone of the company’s
presentation was Dr. Haber, a safety-culture specialist the utility
hired as an outside consultant for Davis-Besse.
credentials include work in five countries, including assessments
for the NRC, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Canadian Nuclear
Safety Commission, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna,
and the Spanish Ministry of Industry.
She said she has used
peer-reviewed methodology at a cross-section of chemical, nuclear,
mining, fossil fuel, health care, and research facilities, including
Soviet-designed reactors, and she has accumulated a database of
responses from more than 20,000 workers over two decades.
Davis-Besse, Dr. Haber plans to not only cull thousands of pages of
documents but also do hour-long interviews with at least 10 percent
of the plant’s 725 member work force. Information also will be
gathered from on-site focus groups. One of the key elements of her
research, she said, will be a plant-wide survey that begins next
week. Each employee will be asked 190 questions.
accumulation of data will be used to issue what FirstEnergy
officials hope will be a pivotal report to bolster their claims
about an improving work environment.
NRC officials said the
report, due in late March, will be a key piece of evidence either
way because the agency wants insight about plant attitudes
documented before it decides whether to grant a restart.
Haber told them not to expect an overnight change of attitudes.
"Three to five years is usually the timeframe to reasonably expect a
change in attitudes and work habits," she said.
other plant to undergo such heightened level of safety-culture
scrutiny was the three-unit Millstone nuclear complex in
The NRC said it took action there after evidence
surfaced in 1996 that the company operating it, Northeast Utilities,
had been harassing and intimidating employees who tried to speak
"It’s not often the NRC moves into this safety-culture
area," Mr. Grobe said. "There are no NRC standards on how to do
Jim Dyer, the NRC’s Midwest regional administrator,
agreed the meeting was productive and that the information presented
will be a framework for improving worker morale.
He said he
wanted the utility to demonstrate how it intended to keep the safety
focus from backsliding once the oversight panel
"What’s important," Mr. Grobe told FirstEnergy
officials, "is you have a set of indicators that seem suitable. And
we are headed in the right direction in that
They include Paul Blanch, a
25-year veteran of Millstone who was fired from his engineering job
after raising safety issues at that complex.
later rehired as an ombudsman as part of Millstone’s restart plan,
yesterday told the NRC he has deep reservations about Davis-Besse
because of the apparent reluctance among workers to come forward - a
sign of an ingrained problem.
"I think you have symptoms of a
safety-conscious work environment that are worse than they ever were
at Millstone," he said, noting how some workers there put their jobs
on the line to come forward.
FirstEnergy now hopes to begin
the three-week process of refueling Davis-Besse’s reactor shortly
before Feb. 11, the date of the NRC oversight panel’s next monthly
meeting at Camp Perry, Mr. Myers said.
undertaking is viewed as a big step toward an eventual restart, now
eyed for early April by the company.
NRC officials said they
will not be held to any such timetable and will continue with their
inspections, which now exceed 5,000 hours since the shutdown began
Feb. 16, 2002.
Before any restart proposal is submitted,
FirstEnergy plans a one-week pressure test, with the fuel loaded, to
see if the bottom of the reactor is leaking, officials said.
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