Forging one WANO

20 November 2015 Caroline Peachey



After two and a half years at the World Association of Nuclear Operators, Ken Ellis reflects on the cultural change at the organisation and explains how it is adapting to an evolving industry.


When Ken Ellis became WANO chief executive officer in April 2013, the organisation was embroiled in its post Fukushima response. Twelve projects recommended by the Post-Fukushima Commission (PFC) and adopted at the WANO Biennial General Meeting in Shenzhen, China in October 2011, have consumed the organisation for the last four years. These initiatives ranged from expanding the scope of WANO activities to include emergency preparedness, severe accident management and onsite fuel storage, to introducing new internal assessments, corporate peer reviews and a new grading process for assessments.

Now, with the post-Fukushima projects drawing to a close, WANO is entering a new chapter. It is looking ahead to the future, planning to increase its offerings for new entrants and plants approaching the end of their lifetimes, and considering opening a new regional centre to account for the shift in nuclear development from west to east.

Two years after Ellis came on board, WANO is already a very different organisation, with many more staff and a more cohesive approach, with better coordination between its regional offices in Atlanta, Moscow, Paris and Tokyo. In 2011 there were 139 WANO staff overall. Now there are 336 across all regions, with WANO heading for 418 by the end of 2016.

Change came about in response to the Fukushima accident, and thanks to a supportive governing board and membership. But it did not come easy. The regions have had to adapt after 24 years working as a different machine, Ellis reflects.

“My biggest challenge has been to converge to make one WANO," says Ellis. "This is a cultural shift and goes right to the foundation of how our organisation works."

A key part of this change has been a shift in the role of the London office and an increase in staffing levels at the site.

“WANO London used to be a very small organisation that used to help coordinate things," says Ellis. "That has now changed radically. We now not only help with coordination, but we have governance and oversight, and direction and leadership of the five WANO programmes."

Ellis likens WANO to a confederation, with a certain degree of autonomy between the regional offices. Recent efforts have been driving for consistency: to make sure that a WANO assessment is the same in Atlanta, Moscow, Tokyo and Paris.

“Now when we make a change in policy or process, we have a far more effective, collaborative approach with the regions," notes Ellis. The London office and the regional centres also form "far more of a cohesive team," he says.

Key changes

Looking back, Ellis feels some of the most notable changes that have taken place during his time at WANO have been the introduction of WANO assessments and the "plants of focus" initiatives, as well as the launch of a new business plan to reflect changes in the industry.

WANO assessments were introduced in September 2014. In addition to peer reviews, plants are now assigned an assessment rating from 1 (the highest) to 5 that captures their overall nuclear safety risk. These ratings provide CEOs with an indication of the station's performance relative to other units. So far Ellis says the regions are finding the assessments a useful product. And as former chief nuclear officer at Canada's Bruce Power he understands how important independent assessments are for CEOs.

Plants of focus (to be rolled out from April 2016, as WANO assessments needed to be established first) aims to identify the units that have been outliers in performance and then muster more regional and global support to help them improve in an expedited manner.

Ellis says support could range from bringing in extra experts to advise units, to providing extra staffing or helping with procedures.

Support may be offered to these units in coordination with other organisations (such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, which conducts its own OSART peer reviews). But Ellis stressed that the initiative will remain internal to WANO, delivered through its Technical Support and Exchange (TS&E) and Professional and Technical Development (P&TD) programmes.

By keeping peer reviews confidential Ellis says WANO can "have some very candid conversations that could get stifled otherwise." This gives WANO its influence. "If you were to lose that you would lose the effectiveness of WANO," he adds.

In 2015, WANO also produced its first long-term business plan - Compass. The plan, which covers the period 2015-2019, aims to give a fundamental understanding of what WANO is doing and how it is positioning itself in a changing nuclear landscape.

"One change being considered is whether or not to open a new regional centre in Beijing"

One change being considered is whether or not to open a new regional centre in Beijing to reflect the growing number of nuclear plants in the East relative to the West.

“When WANO was created 26 years ago, the regional centres were set up based on where the nuclear plants were," recalls Ellis. "In 10-20 years that distribution will be quite different. We thought it was high time to look at our structure and see if change is needed."

WANO is currently evaluating the business case for WANO reorganisation. It is considering three options: remaining the same; reorganisation within the existing structure (that is retaining the four regional centres); or adding a fifth centre in Beijing.

The recommendation, which will be put to the WANO membership during the October 2017 BGM in South Korea, will have "profound implications" on WANO going forward.

WANO has recent experience of opening an office in the region. In 2011, it opened a pre-startup peer review team office in Hong Kong (a satellite of the London office), so the team could be based in the region where the greatest number of pre-startup reviews will be conducted in the next few years. A total of 44 pre-startup reviews have been carried out by WANO since 2004 and from 2011 onwards, it has carried them out systematically at all new units.

Focus on new build and end of life

From 2016, WANO is also looking to expand its reach beyond the traditional operational sphere, with the aim of instilling superior operational standards and performance among new industry entrants as well as maintaining those standards for plants approaching end-of-life, life extension or decommissioning.

"Today, we have 68 reactors being constructed and 80% of the current fleet is approaching end of life"

“Today, we have 68 reactors being constructed and 80% of the current fleet is approaching end of life. The bookends are very hefty. That is why we have adapted our focus area," Ellis says.

Part of this effort will involve increased collaboration and alignment with the IAEA. Under a revised memorandum of understanding signed in September 2012 the organisations already coordinate the timing of the OSART and WANO peer reviews for the benefit of the members, share information such as plant performance metrics, and share recommendations (for example WANO shares the recommendations from its Significant Operating Experience Reports, which require members to take actions on generic issues, with the IAEA).

The IAEA has recently asked WANO to get more involved when a new country wishes to join the nuclear community.

Currently, the IAEA offers international nuclear infrastructure reviews for countries wishing to embark on a nuclear programme. Since 2009 when the first review was carried out in Jordan, the IAEA has carried out INIRs in Bangladesh, Belarus, Indonesia, Nigeria, Poland, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, and (in August 2015) Kenya.

In contrast, WANO gets involved just before the first fuel load when it conducts a pre-startup review - so much later in the process. WANO has already recognised the benefit of becoming more heavily involved at the new build stage and has developed 17 technical support modules spread over from first concrete to loading of the fuel, under its New Unit Assistance (NUA) initiative.

“The idea is to help newcomers to start building an operational mentality or focus much earlier," says Ellis. "When you flick a switch you get power going to the grid. But organisational cultures don't change like that."

Right now, WANO is focusing on building its capability to offer new-build modules to new entrants. As a second stage - and as part of Compass - WANO is looking at how it could work with the IAEA even earlier in the process.

“Nuclear is a 100 year commitment on behalf of a country," says Ellis. "We can help them get a better understanding of the operational aspects."
Also as part of Compass, WANO is planning to adjust its suite of products and services to meet the fresh challenges being faced by the more mature nuclear nations with plants nearing the end of their operational lives.

In response to the situation in Japan, the organisation has created a long-term shutdown evaluation; essentially a technical support mission that evaluates the units ahead of restart. WANO says all Japanese stations will receive a restart review, and that they have already been carried out at 26 out of the country's 44 operable units.

“We have three priorities - new build, the main part of operation and end of life," says Ellis. "Certainly new build and operating plants have taken 'front and centre' with us right now, but as part of Compass we are going to be ramping up work on life extensions, long-term operation and so on."

Ultimately the plan for WANO over the next five years is to support operators around the world facing an array of different challenges.
In the USA the rise of shale gas is putting pressure on economics, Europe is facing difficulties with regulatory conformity and a political and social drive towards renewables, Japan has a challenge with the public, deeply shaken because of Fukushima, China is expanding rapidly and has an associated human resource challenge, while Russia is building a large number of VVERs around the world.

Ellis says: "Amongst this list of different pressures or dynamics, WANO's sole purpose is that... should a country wish to operate a nuclear power plant we want to make sure they can operate it safely."


Ken Ellis has been chief executive officer of WANO since April 2013. He is due to retire at the end of 2015, but said he intends to stay active in the nuclear sector when he spoke to Nuclear Engineering International in October.

Ellis will be replaced by Peter Prozesky who willl officially take up the position on 1 January 2016.

Ken Ellis addressing the WANO BGM in October 2015
WANO staffing levels have increased significantly in response to Fukushima
WANO has appointed Peter Prozesky as the new WANO chief executive officer. Peter will officially take up the position on 1 January 2016, replacing Ken Ellis


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