Stinging peer review of ComEd

1 January 1998

Commonwealth Edison’s nuclear power programme, the largest in the US, “has never run well” and never will unless management undergoes a major cultural change, the industry’s Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in Atlanta (INPO), said in a stinging report made public in late November. According to the report, ComEd is “the only large nuclear utility [in the US] that has never had a culture that is conducive to a well-run nuclear programme, and its nuclear programme has never run well.” The findings were based on evaluations conducted by INPO last summer.

The report, delivered to ComEd in September, was especially critical of ComEd’s Zion nuclear station, and, to a lesser extent, the LaSalle station, both of which are currently shut down. Zion has been off line since 21 February when a worker accidentally shut down one unit at the station and then violated procedures by immediately seeking to restart it. Zion’s operators have also exhibited nonprofessional behaviour, INPO charged. For example, an operator once refused to take his assigned shift position. On another occasion, two shifts of operators removed their shirts while on the job to protest management policies.

According to the report, ComEd managers spend so much time in meetings and so little time with workers that some employees don’t know who they report to. Over the past 4 1/2 years, 104 different people have held the top 30 jobs at ComEd nuclear stations. INPO called this a clear indication of serious management problems. But INPO said ComEd’s Byron plant has operated well and that management of the Dresden and Quad Cities nuclear stations is improving.

Mike Wallace, senior vice president for ComEd’s newly formed Nuclear Generation Group, said the utility has accepted the INPO report and is seeking to persuade its employees to accept its conclusions as well so that the programme can move forward. He also said that the report was one of the factors that led ComEd recently to hire Oliver Kingsley, formerly head of nuclear operations at TVA, who has been credited with helping turn around a nuclear programme that was once considered the worst in the US.

ComEd hopes to restart one Zion unit in the first quarter of 1998 and one LaSalle unit in the second quarter.

The ComEd nuclear programme has also been under heavy criticism from the Nuclear Regulatory Commis-sion which a year ago took the unusual step of requiring that ComEd detail for the agency its plans for continuing to operate its nuclear plants safely.

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