NRC issues new policy on safety culture

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has developed a safety culture policy intended to promote an "overriding" commitment to safety at the nation's nuclear facilities.

The policy statement issued late Tuesday and published in the Federal Register features nine "traits," or behaviors meant to foster a positive environment for the safety and security of activities at nuclear power plants. Years in the making, the guidance is not required as regulation but intended to put a "safety-first focus" on operations, the NRC said.

The NRC defines safety culture as "an organization's collective commitment, by leaders and individuals, to emphasize safety as an overriding priority to competing goals and other considerations to ensure protection of people and the environment."

The policy applies to all 104 nuclear reactors, including the two operating reactors and one closed reactor at Millstone Power Station in Waterford, which is owned by Dominion. In the mid-1990s, mismanagement led to temporary closing of the complex and fines for then-owner Northeast Utilities.

NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko said the policy statement covers safety and security at nuclear power and fuel cycle facilities, and in the security and usage of nuclear materials.

Industry watchdog David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the policy will help prevent the kind of troubles that Millstone and other nuclear complexes have had in the past.

"By law, NRC cannot force owners to have good safety cultures," Lochbaum wrote in an email. "But when bad safety cultures cause regulations to be violated, this policy statement helps the NRC ensure that real cause of the problems is fixed. Thus, NRC is better able to heal the disease rather than treat its symptoms."

The nine traits include leadership safety values and actions, problem identification and resolution, personal accountability, work processes, continuous learning, environment for raising concerns, effective safety communication, respectful work environment and questioning attitude.

David Collins of Old Lyme, a former specialist in reactor safety systems at Millstone, said the NRC's policy is "nothing new."

"The NRC needs to begin to properly regulate safety culture, and the industry needs to begin to properly manage safety culture," Collins said in an email. "Right now, this accountability enforced by NRC occurs AFTER an event ... the main thing to address ... is that this needs to be identified and resolved [assessed and enforced] BEFORE an event occurs."

Last December, the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group, developed more than 400 pages of guidelines for reactor owners called "Fostering a Strong Nuclear Safety Culture."

Dominion spokesman Ken Holt declined comment on the NRC's policy.

Safety guidance

For more information about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's safety culture policy, visit:


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