March 01, 2012
ST. FRANCISVILLE — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman spoke to River Bend nuclear power plant employees Wednesday about the importance of instilling a culture of safety in their daily work.
Gregory Jaczko said he spoke to members of an industry group, the National Association of Employee Concerns Professionals, in New Orleans on Wednesday morning before visiting the West Feliciana Parish plant.
“Nuclear power plants have what are called employee concerns programs as a place where employees may go if they have (safety) issues that they want to address,’’ Jaczko said.
“This is one of the things we’re concerned about at River Bend. We’ve seen some things, that I wouldn’t say raise concerns, but that we’re watching to make sure that they’re doing the right kinds of things to address the safety culture,” he said.
The NRC wants to make sure that employees are being conservative in their decision-making, ask the right questions and are free to raise questions, Jaczko said.
Last year, Entergy Operations Inc. and Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc. agreed to take additional steps to ensure the effectiveness of the quality-control programs and safety-conscious work environment at 11 nuclear power plants.
The agreement with the NRC stemmed from a River Bend employee’s complaint that he suffered retaliation after questioning inspection activities that were thought to be part of the plant’s quality control program.
Entergy chose to resolve the matter through a mediation process and agreed to reinforce its commitment to a safety-conscious work environment and to reorganize the quality control chain of command, the NRC announced in August.
Entergy also agreed to conduct a safety culture survey at River Bend, the NRC said.
In January, the NRC levied a $140,000 fine against the plant after an investigation revealed that nine plant operators violated procedures by surfing the Internet while on duty in the control room.
Jaczko said distraction issues have arisen in nuclear plant control rooms across the nation down through the years, but “this may be the first one involving accessing the Internet.”
The decisions to visit Internet sites while on duty are not in the interest of safety or consistent with procedures, he said.
“Those are very important issues, and it was an opportunity for me to come here and really reinforce the importance of that with the employees,” Jaczko said. “I had a great opportunity to talk to a group of employees, and they asked some very good questions. We had a very candid dialogue about these issues.”
While touring the plant, Jaczko said, Entergy officials gave him an update on the steps the plant has taken since the 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster to cope with the extended loss of off-site power to safely shut down the plant in an emergency.
The NRC will soon begin implementing new requirements for U.S. plants based on the experience in Japan, he said.