Millstone 2 back from the brink30 June 1999
On 29 April the US NRC gave Northeast Utilities (NU) permission to restart the 870 MWe Millstone Unit 2 for the first time in 3 years. The story of its rescue, probably the most difficult nuclear plant recovery yet undertaken, began in 1996 when NU recruited Bruce Kenyon to pull the troubled station back from the brink. One crucial move he made was to bring in a team from Virginia Power to lead the Unit 2 recovery programme.
Millstone’s performance deterioration started in the early 1990s, so it was no surprise when, in January 1996, all three Millstone units were placed on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Watch List. In the February, unit 2 was shut down to address issues with its containment sump screens and unit 3 followed in March due to a containment isolation valve issue. Then in July, the station was classified Category 3, meaning that NRC authorisation is required for restart. The organisation was being overburdened with challenges.
Later that year, NU recruited Bruce Kenyon, an experienced nuclear plant manager, from South Carolina Electricity & Gas where he had been president and coo. However, he was no stranger to Millstone as he had started his civilian nuclear career with NU’s nuclear organisation when it was one of the industry’s leading operators.
Appointed president and ceo of the company’s operation arm, Northeast Nuclear Energy Company (NNECO), Kenyon found a situation of low standards, plant material condition not being properly maintained, low performance expectations and inefficient procedures. The relationship between employees and leaders had been badly damaged over the years.
Kenyon realised that the problem started from the top and some radical steps were needed, including an infusion of new leadership. Kenyon’s bold idea – never done before – was to approach other utilities to ask if they would be willing to step in.
Bringing in help from outside allowed Kenyon to focus on the very serious leadership problems. Re-establishing a good work culture in which safety is the primary characteristic, was another key to recovery.
It was often suggested that previous cost-cutting was the driver for the poor performance. “This was not true in the Millstone case,” says Kenyon. “In fact, the resources available were not out of line with the rest of industry. Certainly there were inefficiencies in how they were spent.” Rather, Kenyon “found leadership ineffective, processes used were inefficient, and jobs were not being completed. This all resulted in frustration by management and staff and spiralling down of performance.” To make matters worse, there were incidents of whistleblowing.
Kenyon’s solution was to set up a new recovery organisation for each unit. Unit 2 recovery was managed by a team from Virginia Power, which successfully operates two 2-unit PWR stations, Surry and North Anna. PECO Energy was to lead the unit 3 recovery and Carolina Power & Light, unit 1. (To focus resources, Unit 3 was chosen lead unit; NU eventually decided on economic grounds to decommission unit 1).
Kenyon wanted these outside teams to help by taking over – temporarily – key management functions, effectively fulfilling the needed leadership role.
Marty Bowling, vice president of Virginia Power Nuclear Services, was made head of the unit 2 recovery team, and given the full authority of an NU company officer by the Northeast Utilities Board of Trustees. Bowling, although a Virginia Power executive, was now part of the NU officer team.
“The root cause of Millstone’s problems was ineffective leadership,” Bowling said. “But the solution was not just changing leadership positions – it was fixing what leadership had broken. Key management processes such as providing a safety-conscious work environment, corrective action, self-assessment, regulatory compliance, training, operator readiness, and nuclear oversight – among others – needed to be rebuilt. Each process required a recovery plan to ultimately fix the process.” The Virginia Power recovery team viewed its mission always as a temporary one. It had no intention of relieving NNECO staff of responsibility. Rather, the Virginia Power team created temporary recovery positions, many of which were filled by the Virginia Power leadership team.
These positions were created so that the company could direct and influence positions, but could back out easily when the time came. “A key responsibility was to identify, develop and mentor NU managers,” said Bowling. “I am very pleased that we were able to contribute in developing a number of NU people who are now top level managers.”
Virginia Power team actions
Bowling offered an opportunity for most of the licensed operators at Millstone Unit 2 to spend some time at Virginia Power’s North Anna and Surry power stations so that they could observe and benchmark the operator functions at those two highly regarded sites. Conversely, Virginia Power sent employees from North Anna operations to Millstone so that they could provide coaching and standards development for Millstone workers.
Virginia Power introduced a new position to the Millstone organisation that had been used successfully at its stations – the assistant manager for safety, responsible for directing and coordinating activities associated with nuclear safety and operations. John Swientoniewski, director of nuclear oversight at Surry, established this at Millstone.
Virginia Power brought its annunciator windows program tracking system – now the standard for the nuclear industry and adopted by the NRC to measure licensee regulatory performance – to track the recovery effort. Virginia Power also refocused the nuclear safety policy to concentrate on two basic principles – a profound respect for the reactor core; and focusing attention and resources to proactively prevent events that compromise nuclear safety.
It had become apparent that the recovery approach needed to shift away from just returning individual units to service to a more comprehensive recovery philosophy. Under this strategy, once the site management processes were recovered, then there could be a sequential return of the units to service through the NRC licensing process.
As the Millstone recovery effort advanced, the duties of Bowling and the 11 other Virginia Power recovery team members changed and were expanded to include assisting recovery of Millstone Unit 3, too.
As the management processes were fixed, the work required to return the units to service became clearer and the restoration process became more organised and methodical. Bowling’s responsibilities during this period shifted from being the Unit 2 recovery leader to leading the interface with the NRC on behalf of all Millstone units. Bowling also assumed all responsibility for the station’s configuration management programme and some site engineering functions. The configuration management effort, alone, required 300 persons each at Millstone units 3 and 2 over a two-year period and a cost of more than $500 million to successfully accomplish.