Safety seven years on

3 April 2018

Peter Prozesky looks at the key measures WANO has implemented with its members following the Fukushima Daiichi accident

SEVEN YEARS HAVE NOW PASSED since the Fukushima Daiichi accident took place in Japan in March 2011. The event served as an important reminder to everyone in the nuclear industry that safety is a priority for us all. It is opportune to review the practical measures taken by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) to support its members to enhance both safety and reliability of nuclear plants worldwide. What has been done in the last seven years, and what more can be done to continue to reinforce safety standards?

In the aftermath of Fukushima, there was a firm resolve from the nuclear industry to identify and address the safety issues that were brought to light by the accident. In particular, there was a commitment to be rigorous in ensuring that lessons were learnt from the event, areas for improvement were identified and that measures to enhance safety were fully implemented worldwide.

WANO – with over 130 members managing more than 460 commercial power plants worldwide – worked closely with its members to identify and implement measures intended to drive excellence in safety at member sites.

WANO’s Post-Fukushima Commission (PFC), established in April 2011, was charged with determining changes that should be implemented within the organisation and its membership. It identified 12 projects. Many improvements were complex and challenging. They required a significant investment of time and resources. These projects have been successfully rolled out and are now a core part of WANO’s business activities.

Emergency preparedness

One of the most important early lessons from Fukushima was ramping up the assistance the association provides to its members following an accident, and more focus on accident mitigation, not just prevention. This major aspect of emergency planning is now a fundamental part of WANO’s activities. The regular peer review programme visits now include detailed assessment of a plant and parent nuclear operating organisation’s emergency preparedness arrangements.

Emergency support plan

WANO developed an emergency support plan to provide its members with assistance in an emergency. It aids members in requesting knowledge and technical expertise from other members and ensures accurate information about the emergency is communicated within the membership. The plan integrates WANO’s actions with those of other industry organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Nuclear Association. In the event of an emergency the plan will be activated, and the organisation will be able to provide accurate event information to its members, as well as co-ordinating requests for technical expertise and support to the worldwide membership. Each of the four WANO regional centres now has a functional, on-call emergency response capability working in conjunction with our member plants.

Severe accident management

Severe accident management focuses on the management of onsite actions, as well as contact with offsite organisations, to mitigate the consequences of a severe accident. It ensures that appropriate resources, facilities, equipment and documentation are in place at plants, and that trained and knowledgeable personnel manage severe accidents efficiently. WANO published a self-assessment guide for members and self-assessment is now a routine procedure at member sites. An addendum is to be added this year to WANO’s Performance Objectives and Criteria (PO&Cs) incorporating these severe accident management guidelines. The PO&Cs set out the global standards of excellence in nuclear safety and form the guiding document for peer reviews.

Early event notification

When a newsworthy event at a nuclear power plant happens, WANO gathers information and shares a concise ‘early notification’ report with member CEOs. The report provides an overview of the event, its cause, consequence and importance, providing CEOs with timely and factual information. This addresses the problem of a lack of verifiable information immediately following a nuclear event. This amplifies the affected member’s public message to a wider audience, who can assess relevance to their country and organisation, and interface effectively with their own stakeholders.

Onsite fuel storage

The Fukushima event showed that spent fuel storage, including dry fuel storage is sensitive to an event response. WANO’s oversight has now improved to ensure that a station can respond quickly to events that affect spent fuel pool cooling or coolant inventory control. These recommendations are also now formally included in the regular peer review.

Design safety fundamentals

The association has extended its activities to assess whether design features deemed necessary to ensure reactor safety are appropriately managed. It looks at design authority, design responsibility and the design-basis-management processes. It is important to emphasise that WANO does not make design-change recommendations or evaluate the design of the plant itself. However, it does utilise design information to inform the reviews and analyses. ‘Design-informed’ peer reviews now enable WANO to identify areas for improvement in the context of the design features of the station.

Peer review frequency

Peer reviews are a cornerstone of the service WANO delivers to its members. They help nuclear power plants compare themselves against standards of excellence through an in-depth, objective review of their operations by an independent team from outside their organisation. After the events in Japan, a key recommendation was that peer reviews should be more frequent. Peer reviews are now delivered to each member once every four years, with a follow-up at the two-year point. More frequent insights into where they can improve means members are more likely to achieve a sustainable uplift in safety levels.

Peer review equivalency

The organisation now has a process that establishes the equivalency of activities conducted by other external organisations’ reviews to those of a WANO peer review. This means that peer reviews conducted by an organisation like the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) are equivalent to a scheduled WANO peer review. Members are obliged to host a WANO peer review every four years; equivalency means that peer reviews by other organisations such as INPO can help members meet this obligation. INPO was granted equivalency for corporate peer reviews in February 2016 and other organisations have requested that their activities also be evaluated.

Corporate peer reviews

Corporate peer reviews are similar to station peer reviews, but focus on the role of the corporate organisation in supporting safe and reliable operation. Their importance lies in the fact that nuclear safety is not just a reflection of the quality of the management and governance systems at a plant, but also the parent company that oversees it. These reviews are now mandated to take place once every six years and look at governance, oversight and monitoring, human resources and communications. Every member has now had at least one corporate peer review, and these provide a benchmark from which to drive improvements in the future.

WANO assessment

The assessment is incorporated into a peer review at a power plant and assigns a numerical rating that captures its overall standard of safety relative to the rest of the worldwide nuclear industry. The assessment rating provides CEOs with quantitative feedback and is intended to help them understand their utility and plant’s performance and where resources would be best allocated to yield the greatest improvements. The scale is 1-5, with 1 being the highest standard and 5 the lowest.

Visibility and transparency

Another requirement from members has been to improve the external visibility and internal transparency of WANO. Visibility is about externally promoting the organisation as a credible entity that collectively represents every nuclear power plant operator regarding nuclear safety. Transparency is about effectively sharing information and best practices within the membership. This is an ongoing effort and includes tailored communication products for members, social media campaigns, corporate videos, infographics and a revitalised public website, which is undergoing further redevelopment in 2018.

WANO internal assessment

Post-Fukushima, WANO was determined to ensure that it worked better across its global offices, providing greater value for members. Internal assessments of the business take place every four years and corrective actions are suggested, with a reduced-scope follow-up assessment after two years. This ensures the business internally replicates its belief in a learning culture and delivers its mission more effectively and efficiently.

Towards a safer future

These 12 projects have been successfully delivered by WANO and its worldwide membership. Our members have collectively implemented around 6000 safety enhancement activities worldwide. The result is that, overall, nuclear safety has improved.

The journey towards safety is continuous. The industry must always guard against complacency. WANO will continue to analyse industry performance trends and industry-wide events to support this vigilance. We continue to publish performance indicator data for our members and reports on the more important industry events.

Corporate leadership at the mid-to senior management level within the nuclear industry has a major influence on performance of the plants. A strong safety culture is at the heart of an effective leadership team and senior managers are key players, due to their positional influence both upwards and downwards. A nuclear leadership programme is helping to bring members together in an environment where they will gain new insights, and hone their leadership skills through interaction with other senior leaders.

Although major advances have been made in nuclear safety and plant performance since Fukushima, the industry must continue to evolve. The ethos and culture at WANO – and the nuclear industry as a whole – is to focus on continuous improvement. WANO will continue to work with its members to deliver on its mission to maximise the safety and reliability of nuclear plants worldwide.  

Author information: Peter Prozesky is Chief Executive Officer at the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) 

Safety Reactor 3 at Fukushima Daiichi pictured during an IAEA expert mission in October 2011 ©IAEA Imagebank. Photo Credit: Giovanni Verlini/IAEA

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