Nuclear Safety Culture: A Work of Smart

September 25, 2013
Dave Lochbaum
Former contributor

Considerable resources have been given to the safety culture at nuclear power plants and within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) over the past decade. Safety culture is a challenging subject for nuclear technologists to handle because it does not lend itself to equations and computer analysis. Safety culture is a work of art.

Paul Blanch, my colleague and close friend, has authored a report titled “Safety Culture Is Not Possible Without Regulatory Compliance”  about safety culture. Paul certainly has the credentials and experience to speak from. A whistleblower himself, Paul was driven from the nuclear power industry via a process he terms “ethical cleansing.” When such antics finally caught up to his former company and placed it on the cover of TIME in March 1996, Paul was re-hired as a consultant to help the company instill the proper safety culture at Millstone and its other nuclear plants. Paul subsequently assisted other plant owners avoid or recover from safety culture problems.

UCS is pleased to help Paul’s report find the audience it deserves. There’s a large audience that needs to understand Paul’s perspectives on this important topic.

The theme of Paul’s report focuses on an element that is all-too-often missing from safety culture programs. As Paul writes in the very first paragraph of his report:

To truly achieve nuclear safety, “regulatory compliance and enforcement” must be the frame used to gauge Nuclear Safety Culture.

Paul later notes that:

The shortest (or surest) path to nuclear safety is achieved by compliance with NRC regulations.

Paul’s commentary reflects UCS’s experience of over four decades on nuclear power safety issues. There have been times when UCS contended that existing regulatory requirements did not provide adequate protection of public health and advocated raising the safety bar. But most of the time, we are trying to get plant owners to comply with and the NRC to enforce the existing requirements. In other words, it’s insufficient to establish the safety bar at the proper height only to watch nuclear reactors limbo beneath it.

Paul has distilled experience from a quarter century of hands-on experience into a well-written and well-organized report. For a minor investment of time, readers can gain a wealth of insights. If Ben Franklin was right about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure, Paul provides several ounces. Or, folks can neglect Paul’s warnings and volunteer for the pounding cure that Millstone, Davis-Besse, Palo Verde, and Fort Calhoun endured.