What happened next at the world’s association

2 August 2013

Far from harming the World Association of Nuclear Operators, the Fukushima disaster has given the all-inclusive utility association a new mission. By Will Dalrymple

WANO is growing. The association of all of the world's nuclear operators -- which changed its byelaws in 2010 to allow utilities to join -- now has 120 members. By next year, it will have more than doubled its staffing levels to nearly 400, from 170 in 2011. It is growing because of the demands of the work it has set itself since Fukushima. In the wake of the industry's biggest accident in 25 years, it has added emergency preparedness and severe accident management guidelines to the scope of its activities.

At the new (and newly-expanded) London headquarters, I met incoming chairman Jacques Regaldo, formerly EDF's senior vice president for generation, and before that station director at its Golfech and Cruas plants, and incoming managing director, Ken Ellis, a 32-year veteran of Bruce Power, whose jobs include chief nuclear officer and site vice president of Bruce B. Both positions are multiple-year fixed-term appointments, and previous occupants Laurent Stricker and George Felgate departed earlier this year. They speak to me just months after the organization has given itself -- the London office and the four regional offices in Paris, Moscow, Tokyo and Atlanta -- their first-ever corporate peer review.

"In all industries, there is a question of competencies: for nuclear operators, for new entrants, and for WANO too," Regaldo says. Some of the staffing increases come from hiring new permanent staff, some come as secondees from industry. "At the Paris centre, we have two site vice presidents. It is very important to have executives, but we also need operators, specialists and experts in radiation protection and different fields," Regaldo says. Later, he says: "If we want to achieve all of our objectives, and look at design aspects [see below], we have to double the WANO staff. It is no surprise that these assessments of internal competence have found that. It is true also for our members."

Ken Ellis says: "We looked at the organization, and we want a mixture of secondees, who are on two-year contracts, and permanent staff. But the ratio is important; too many secondees creates a rapid turnover."

Regaldo adds: "The numbers in the regional centres are going up dramatically. Some of the centres have moved offices -- the same as here -- for more room. Moscow centre has increased the number of young engineers." Later, he says: "With youth comes innovation. They are not encumbered by a certain way of thinking. They have a wealth of ideas. Involving the younger generation is a key issue for WANO and its members. Consider Germany: how difficult it must be to hire young, motivated engineers, in the current phaseout scenario? But they still need them. China is starting one new project per month. It needs skills; it needs talent."

WANO's newly-expanded members' list does not include suppliers of fuel, reactor designers or fabricators (except AREVA, because it operates the La Havre reprocessing plant). But one of the organization's most ambitious post-Fukushima goals is to examine the robustness of the plant design basis. This project is proving tricky, and the scope of this work remains to be established, although the work is scheduled to be finished by 2015. "WANO needs to be very thoughtful and selective as to what design aspects it wishes to evaluate," it said in a written statement after its latest biannual general meeting (BGM)in Moscow in May

And it is getting more stringent with members. For example, a very significant change is in the frequency of mandatory station peer reviews, from once every six years to once every four, with a follow-up visit at the half-way point (the first of which will start next year). "In order to meet this objective, the Moscow, Paris and Tokyo Centres must increase their staffing levels and associated training," the post-BGM statement said. The peer reviews are independent reviews of nuclear safety and plant reliability. WANO has performed 81 since 2011, and 500 since 1992. It has recently launched corporate peer reviews to 'examine how decisions made at a member's headquarters affect nuclear safety across the company', according to a WANO document. Every member has to do one by 2018.

Starting January 2014, even the peer review judging criteria will be updated, to include post-Fukushima issues and other operating experience over the half-dozen years since the last revision. A new portion focuses fundamental human behaviour traits that apply from the board of directors down to the shop mechanic, irrespective of hierarchy, including for example the organization's tolerance to risk.

At Russia's Atomexpo conference in June 2012, then-WANO president Vladimir Asmolov stated that WANO peer reviews should be publicly released, to improve transparency. Regaldo, however, said that this would not be happening any time soon: "People say things differently when they know what they say is public. We want to preserve confidentiality." He says that confidentiality builds trust and transparency among the members. But by the same token, he was unwilling to share results of the peer review of the London headquarters and regional centres.

The IAEA will be able to go behind the non-disclosure wall and exchange information with WANO, according to the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed in September 2012. This agreement will also help them coordinate their respective OSART and WANO peer reviews.

But WANO's work goes beyond what the IAEA offers industry, Ellis says. "We do what it can't, for example technical support missions, or pre-start-up reviews for new entrants." This latter programme, which helps plants in the commissioning stages (before initial fuel load), has been operating since 2011; there have been 13 so far, and another five are scheduled. For example, Iran's Bushehr was done back in 2011, but will probably receive a follow-up, according to Ellis. To support pre-start-up reviews in China, WANO's London headquarters has opened a satellite office in Hong Kong.

Ellis continues, "We are also looking at carrying out restart reviews. This is dedicated to Japan, where there have been long-term shutdowns, and we are proposing to help companies prepare for the restart process. We will probably do the two first ones at the end of the year. It will be a progressive process; there will be a few next year."

Both Regaldo and Ellis say that mandatory post-Fukushima upgrades have been a good thing for nuclear power plants. Jacques Regaldo says, "All operators have implemented modifications, and have also implemented organizational transformation. At the same time as they improve safety, they improve reliability. At the same time as they improve safety culture, they improve skills, they improve global performance. It's the same lever."

WANO has also released its annual performance indicators, and both Regaldo and Ellis say that the organization's picture of what is really going on continues to improve. "There are now no 'silent units' that never report events," Regaldo says. "In the past, every year, there were several hundred events reported, but some units never reported them. Not now. That is a sign of improving safety culture."

Some of these events are analysed in detail and published throughout the WANO network as significant event reports (SERs); others are grouped together with extra analysis and become significant operating experience reports (SOERs). The two latest WANO SOERs, from 2013, cover post-Fukushima actions, and 'weaknesses in operator fundamentals.' Although WANO would not go into detail about the latter (SOERs are confidential), a spokeswoman did say they are "an adverse trend in operator fundamentals that may be a precursor to events of greater consequence. This document provides recommendations that require both immediate attention and ongoing actions."

New entrants to nuclear power see the benefits of access to all of this shared knowledge, Regaldo says, adding that in late April he experienced it firsthand, when Saudi Arabian officials pressed him to become WANO members, even though the country's nuclear programme still has not even made a reactor technology choice [see also p18]. (Saudi Arabia is likely to become affiliated with the London office in the short term, and later be move to a regional centre).

Regaldo says, "The strength in the community is being integrated, and sharing. It doesn't exist among regulators around the world. New entrants see that, but there are several challenges at the same time; that is why we are increasing our competencies, and increasing the views of different experts. If we succeed we will have a more integrated view of our collective work, to the enrichment of all of our members."

Unplanned capability loss factor
Jacques Regaldo, right, and Ken Ellis
Events reported to WANO 2000-2012
Unplanned automatic SCRAMs per 7,000 hours (˜1 year) critical

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