Report on Palisades nuclear plant: 'Lack of accountability at all levels'

Jul 17, 2012

Update 11:05 a.m.

Palisades Spokesman Mark Savage issued these bullet points Tuesday in an email response to reporters about the report by Conger & Elsea:

  • At Entergy and Palisades, we constantly assess our safety culture, and one way we do that is through safety culture assessments like this. We are aggressively taking steps to address the areas for improvement identified in the assessment because we are committed to creating an environment where our employees feel free to raise issues and know their comments will be addressed.
  • Entergy Palisades voluntarily conducted the independent Safety Culture Assessment in January 2012 as a proactive measure.  A second, corporate Safety Culture Survey will be performed in September at the site.
  • The Safety Culture Assessment results reflect the opinions of 82% of the plant’s workforce.
  • Small group meetings with the Site Vice President started on July 2 and are ongoing to discuss the assessment’s findings and glean insight from employees for common themes.

Monday, July 16 - 12:15 p.m.

An independent analysis paints a grim picture of the safety culture at the Palisades nuclear plant. The third party assessment comes in response to a series of safety violations at the plant last year, which resulted in a downgrade of the plant’s safety rating. It now has one of the worst safety ratings in the country.

Conger & Elsea Inc conducted the assessment in January and February of this year. Entergy Corporation filed a copy of the summary of the results of the study (but not the complete report) to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the agency's request. The NRC released the document today.

Under Human Performance:

The company determined standards were up to industry expectations. However, the report says “standards and expectations with respect to work practices and work control need to be more clearly communicated and reinforced.”

“The Team believes that there is a lack of confidence and trust by the majority of employees (both staff and management) at the Plant in all levels of management to be open, to make the right decisions, and to really mean what they say.  This is indicated by perceptions around the decisions that have been made, the mixed messages and lack of adherence to expectations by management and supervision, and in the repeated emphasis of production over safety exhibited through decisions around resources.”

Problem Indetification and Resolution:

The report says employees are willing to raise issue and concerns. But it notes there is no forum to address those concerns and that management’s willingness to deal with those concerns are limited to “high level issues”.

“There is a lack in the belief  that Palisades Management really wants problems or concerns reported or that the issues will be addressed."

Safety Conscious Work Environment:

The report concludes that the Palisades Plant has issues “with respect to a safety conscious work environment.”

“While the majority of employees believe that management says that retaliation would not be tolerated, there is also a widespread perception of  fear and punishment across the Plant.  The Team believes that an Area for Improvement must be identified for the perception that the majority of employees believe that they cannot challenge management decisions, that helpful criticism is not encouraged, and that they cannot approach management with concerns.”

The company says “management has not been successful in communicating and reinforcing the values and attitudes that are important for enhancing safety culture.”

“Further evaluation and understanding of why there is such pervasiveness and consistency across the Plant around these issues  is critical in moving forward  for effective progress to be made for ensuring a healthy safety culture.”

Other Safety Culture Components:

“Examples of a lack of accountability at all levels at the Plant were evident.”

The report notes many in management don’t always “exhibit desired behaviors and are not challenged by their managers or peers.” It says there is commonly “inconsistent implementation of standards and expectations in work activities” that may be “facilitated by ineffective communication”.

The report says the major factor in the accountability issue is “that there are too many expectations and standards  identified without a clear prioritization of which ones are most important.”

I have put out requests for comment on the reports to both the NRC and Palisades. I’ll provide updates as they are available.

The NRC will hold a public meeting addressing the report soon. A Palisades spokesperson said earlier this month the company plans on participating in the meeting.