Nuclear Safety:

Concerns About Reactor Restart and Implications for DOE's Safety Culture

RCED-90-104: Published: Apr 12, 1990. Publicly Released: Jun 11, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) efforts to restart three nuclear production reactors at the Savannah River site in South Carolina.

GAO found that: (1) the site contractor submitted a restart plan to DOE that detailed actions needed for restart; (2) the plan proposed to restart one reactor in September 1990, and the other two in December 1990 and March 1991, respectively; (3) as of March 1990, the contractor was revising the plan to assess the effects of tasks added to restart requirements; (4) DOE planned to announce a restart schedule in April 1990; (5) the contractor planned to make safety, operational, and management changes by fall 1990, which could cause additional restart delays; (6) potential delays ranged from 1.5 months to over 2 years; (7) DOE needed to improve employee attitudes toward safety at the site; (8) the contractor intended for the plan and associated activities to address safety issues; and (9) the contractor prepared a management policy statement describing implemented or planned culture changes, but the policy lacked a plan for measuring the success of those changes.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE indicates that Westinghouse's Reactor Operations Plan includes a discussion of the culture change program. Further, DOE will issue a Safety Evaluation Report (SER) to document the results of the DOE review of the readiness of the reactors for restart. No separate plan is intended.

    Recommendation: To achieve the desired safety culture change in Savannah River reactor operations, the Secretary of Energy should require that Westinghouse prepare a comprehensive, integrated implementation plan with specific tasks, milestones, and measurement indicators.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE believes that the integration of the safety culture change into the restart activities is essential to make the change effective. DOE does not agree that a separate plan with specific tasks, milestones, and measurement indicators is necessary; in fact, the development of a separate plan could confuse the issue, according to DOE.

    Recommendation: DOE should review the Westinghouse plan to ensure that it is complete and then formally approve it.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a letter dated August 11, 1989, DOE revised the Award Fee Determination Plan for the Savannah River Site to allot a total of 58.25 percent of the total award fee dollars to environment, safety, and health.

    Recommendation: After approving the Westinghouse plan, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Assistant Secretary for Defense Programs to use the plan, along with other factors, to establish the award fee criteria for the 6-month award fee evaluation period beginning October 1, 1990.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE agrees that the safety culture of both federal and contractor employees must be improved; however, the DOE position is that this must be accomplished through "top down" emphasis on a safety culture, award fee determination, and ongoing training. No separate plan is intended.

    Recommendation: To ensure that safety culture is changed DOE-wide, the Secretary of Energy should develop a departmentwide plan for bringing about the needed changes in the safety culture in DOE and for contractors at other DOE nuclear facilities, to include measurement indicators.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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