Inside a WANO peer review18 June 2014
A key tool in improving nuclear power plants around the world is a review of individual plants by international peers. These reports result in candid and in-depth evaluations of strengths and areas for improvement. By Alexey Kovynev
The World Association of Nuclear Operators unites all the world's utilities that operate nuclear power plants. There are four regional centres - in Atlanta, Paris, Moscow, and Tokyo - central offices in London, and pre-startup review offices in Hong Kong. WANO was founded in 1989 in Moscow after the Chernobyl accident by nuclear operators trying to do everything possible to prevent another accident, believing that operators of nuclear stations share a collective responsibility to do so. The WANO mission is to maximally increase reliability and safety worldwide through common efforts in assessment, benchmarking, mutual support, exchange of information and use of best practice.
Experience shows that many problems could be prevented if the right lessons were learned from previous events. The main principles of WANO are that it is better to learn from the errors of others than from your own, and that it is better to benefit from the good ideas of others rather than spending the time and money to develop the same ideas yourself. So operators of nuclear stations gain access to world operational experience for general ideas and specific examples of good work practices.
The success of WANO depends on cooperation and trust between all members of the association. This spirit, overcoming national borders, political barriers and commercial interest, makes nuclear energy unique among world industries. WANO is not directly linked to governments, it is not a commercial or financial organisation or a regulatory agency. WANO does not consult on design questions and does not belong to lobby circles. In brief, WANO has no other interests than increasing nuclear safety.
WANO members take part in different programmes and activities. The operational experience programme informs members about events that took place at other stations so members can take measures to prevent the occurrence of similar events at their own.
The professional and technical development programme exchanges ideas about increasing reliability and safety. Its aim is to help station personnel expand their professional knowledge and skills and to exchange the most modern information. This exchange takes place at workshops, expert meetings and courses. Technical support missions help WANO members find solutions to existing problems and improve processes that are already verified in practice. The collection, distribution and analysis of trends of NPP performance indicators give any station the ability to compare its own operational results with the results of all the other stations around the world.
Importance of the peer review process
Experience in the nuclear industry has shown the merit of periodic reviews of plant operations by external groups. In 1991, WANO established a pilot programme for voluntary peer reviews that has had great success and has continued up to the present day. Now it is a WANO member obligation to host WANO peer reviews. They may also host other external reviews, including utility reviews with outside members, IAEA operational safety review team (OSART) reviews, and reviews from the USA's Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and the Japan Nuclear Technology Institute (JANTI).
WANO has now conducted over 500 operating station peer reviews at nearly every operating nuclear power plant. After Fukushima, WANO is moving towards a four-year peer-review frequency at every plant.
It should be added that the peer review process between a member and WANO is private. This privacy is necessary for WANO to carry out its mission of promoting safety. In the peer review process, WANO must obtain information from the personnel who do the day-to-day work at an operating nuclear station. This important information is based on the facts, and it is more likely to be provided freely in a relationship built on trust and confidence. If the interactions between the regional centre and the plant personnel are made public, then the regional centre may be given less information and the quality of that information may deteriorate. Besides this, peer review teams are experts in their technical fields but normally are not experts in public relations.
The team members are not expected to interact with the media during or after peer reviews. Furthermore, WANO does not comment or provide to a third party any information on the peer reviews. Peer review reports are provided only to the host utility and the regional centres.
WANO peer review programme
The peer review programme provides an opportunity for members to learn and share worldwide insights on safe and reliable plant operation and thereby improve their own performance. The team is invited by the station independent of any requirements of the nuclear regulatory and government authorities. The standard WANO peer review is of all operational units of a nuclear power plant, although the programme has expanded to include pre-startup peer reviews and corporate peer reviews. WANO provides all new units with a pre-startup review before initial criticality and a peer review two years after connection to the grid. A pre-startup peer review team office opened in September 2012 in Hong Kong, to enable a specialist team to be based in the region where the greatest number of startups will take place in the next few years.
Guidelines, processes and procedures have been developed to support the peer review programme. Performance objectives and criteria for plant peer reviews are used as the standards by which plant performance is compared. This document looks like a description of an ideal nuclear station.
Standard plant peer reviews cover several functional areas: operations, maintenance, chemistry, engineering, radiological protection and training. They also cover cross-functional areas: operational focus, work management, equipment reliability, configuration management, performance improvement, operating experience, organisational effectiveness, fire protection and emergency preparedness. From this year (2014) additional areas such areas as leadership and nuclear professionalism will be reviewed. An important part of each peer review is a review of the status of recommendations from WANO significant operating experience reports.
Preparing for the review
After the schedule is confirmed by the host station, the next task is to form a team that consists of a qualified team leader and up to 25 experienced nuclear professionals from member organisations. Team roles and responsibilities are clearly described in peer-review processes. Teams include members from foreign countries, and whenever possible at least one reviewer from each regional centre. Using international peers promotes consistency and sharing of review techniques among regions, and allows communication of independent points of view.
A team leader candidate must have reached the level of plant manager or similar, and have at least ten years' experience in the nuclear industry. This allows him or her to be an effective counterpart to the plant's managers. He or she must have highly-developed communication, observation and analytical skills, be able to interact effectively with individuals from the utility, and be able to motivate and build teamwork among personnel with diverse backgrounds.
The position requires knowledge of best industry practices in many areas, understanding of international cultures and the ability to use peer-review methodology to be effective in these cultures. All of these skills allow the leader to build a collaborative team, ensuring that peers from international industry and the host utility are actively engaged. They should be analysing plant information to identify potential areas for the team, establishing effective working relationships with senior station managers, and effectively communicating the peer review results to them.
A peer review team candidate needs to have at least five years' experience in the nuclear industry, and have reached the level of a department head, deputy head, shift manager or supervisor. This experience helps him or her understand operational practices at different kinds of reactors. His or her skills must allow effective communication with all levels of station management. Every team member gets training on the peer review process, and in conducting observations and interviews. Guides for peer reviewers divide every functional area into sub-sections and list questions and affirmations that should be answered and confirmed.
A preliminary visit to the station by the team leader and several team members is conducted in advance to prepare for the review. The plant prepares a preliminary information package that includes plant layout, organisational charts, self-assessment results, performance indicator charts, procedures, equipment surveillance and testing schedules, event analysis and other important information. The package is provided to team members about six months in advance to allow them sufficient time for review.
Mechanics: 10+ days on site
At last the team arrives at the station. Then there is the first acquaintance, and the first tour of the station in groups to look for facts that can be considered as a basis for future problem areas. The work begins. The review includes observations, interviews with key personnel and discussion of observational results with station personnel. The conclusions are based primarily on the observed performance of the plant and staff, including observations of outage activities and simulator crew performance.
During the process language barriers are a serious obstacle, but effective use of interpreters helps to communicate complex technical and management information.
The station assigns plant counterparts for each reviewed area to help reviewers; usually they are the source of most of the reviewer's answers. The reviewers are paired up with another reviewer to cover a particular area, but often work apart to cover more ground. The reviewers try to use their time effectively, dividing it between interviews with plant employees, checking documents, touring the plant and observing processes. The exact divisions of labour depend on the functional area being reviewed. The reviewers share their findings every day in the team meeting.
In the course of this activity the peer review team identifies and documents areas of plant operation in which the objectives and criteria may not be fully met, and write down these areas for improvement.
An area for improvement is a performance gap to excellence at the station. The gap could represent a behavioural, process-based or other type of practice that is causing, or has the potential to cause, an adverse effect on plant safety and reliability. The areas for improvement are supported by factual observations of conditions, records or activities, and include perspectives related to the breadth and depth of the identified problems, the actual or potential consequences of the problems, and credible causes.
It is also important for the review team to develop managerial feedback. This perspective should identify shortfalls such as lack of recognition of declines in performance, weaknesses in problem investigation, or ineffective corrective actions. The feedback aims to explain why the problem exists, to show how the organisation understands the scope, significance, and causes of the problem, and to develop and implement an effective solution to the problem by the organisation.
Often the team also finds strengths and instances of so-called beneficial practices (improvements). Beneficial practices typically have a historical perspective and identify a performance problem at the station that was addressed over the review period and ended with significantly-improved station performance. These practices are usually focused on results, not processes, behaviours or techniques.
It should be noted that the peer review is not a simple process, psychologically speaking. One of the main rules for reviewers is that they are partners, not inspectors. Of course, the station does its best to create an amicable atmosphere, and reviewers try to be careful and patient with minor details. But no-one who likes their job enjoys having their performance reviewed. Nevertheless, efforts by both parties make the review process friendly and fruitful.
Now the review is close to the end. A final briefing with station management and other key personnel is held to present the team's findings in the form of a discussion. The purpose of the final briefing is to ensure senior plant managers' agreement on the factual basis for, and understanding of, the conclusions for each identified area.
The result of the whole job is a frank peer review report that highlights strengths and areas for improvement in nuclear safety and plant reliability, including causes and contributors.
An exit meeting with the senior station staff is conducted to communicate the team's written report. During the exit meeting, the key areas for improvement are presented directly to the chief executive officer to ensure he or she has a clear understanding of the problems and is committed to taking corrective actions for the identified areas.
The minimum on-site period for plant peer reviews is ten long working days. Like everything, the peer review ends, to the great relaxation of everybody involved in the process, because it is a big job both to review and to be reviewed. The team members leave the station that has become native for them.
What comes after the peer review?
Although the review team's work is finished, their peer review is assessed by the respective regional centre to determine its effectiveness and quality. Its areas for improvement and strengths are reviewed by the regional centre staff independent of the review team to ensure consistent quality. Each regional centre evaluates the results of the review and checks for common issues across other plants; the results are part of the WANO peer review annual report.
After the peer review, WANO regional centres assist members in addressing areas for improvement. Methods include technical support missions and industry workshops. Each regional centre follows up on the corrective actions developed by the member and supports them with areas that are difficult to resolve.
A peer review follow-up usually takes place two years later. Some of the original reviewers are often included in these reviews, which consist of a smaller team working in a shorter interval. The team reviewers' observations and interviews are focused to highlight the status of the areas evaluated previously. Their target is to assess the effectiveness of the corrective actions and the station progress since the peer review.
Then the station takes a deep breath and then begins planning for the next peer review. The cycle of quality begins again.
Alexey Kovynev is a former shift supervisor and opeator at Ukraine's Zaporozhie nuclear power plant. He is also Nuclear Engineering International magazine's cartoonist. Alexey Kovynev participated in his first WANO peer review at an Eastern European nuclear power plant in 2013.