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Published:February 20th, 2007 00:45 EST
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) shutdown Peach Bottom Atomic Station (PBAPS)

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) shutdown Peach Bottom Atomic Station (PBAPS)

By SOP newswire

In 1987 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) shutdown Peach Bottom Atomic Station (PBAPS) due to human performance issues. When the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) began rebuilding their Nuclear organization, they happened upon Robert P. Crosby, one of a legion of resources brought to bear on the organization. Crosby began applying the same techniques he had been honing since the 1950s. His prior experience with DOE and Rancho Seco Nuclear helped open the door. At Rancho Seco he crafted a turnaround on an MOV project that was months behind schedule (unfortunately, that effort and additional culture change work was wasted when the public voted to shut down the site permanently). At PECO, Crosby emerged as the leader of the extensive organizational development activity that took place in the wake of the shutdown. This special edition of Human Factors explores Crosby`s methods, which have been replicated in numerous organizations, and continue to be utilized today. 

On March 31, 1987 Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station was indefinitely shutdown, following a series of human performance and equipment related incidents. Infamously, operators were found sleeping on the job, playing video games, engaging in rubber band and paper ball fights, and reading unauthorized material.

As if in anticipation of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators (INPO) yet to be developed human performance model, blame was not simply placed on the operators. Latent organizational weakness " was targeted by industry experts and regulators alike. INPO President Zack Pate came to the unprecedented conclusion that, Major changes in the corporate culture at PECO are required. " In September of 1988 NRC Chairman Lando Zech told senior management officials of PECO, "Your operators certainly made mistakes, no question about that. Your corporate management problems are just as serious." By April 1988 this unusual emphasis on mismanagement contributed to the President of PECO resigning and the retirement of the CEO.

By 1996 both Limerick and Peach Bottom were designated excellent by INPO, and given strong Systematic Assessment of Licensee Performance (SALP) ratings by the NRC. Many factors contributed to this stunning success story. The following are the key organizational development strategies that were employed: & Business Strategies for Bottom-Line Results

1. Clarify Goals and Build Alignment. Management must lead and communicate. They must set clear goals, such as increased capacity factor and lower costs, and lead towards them. They must continually communicate the goals, and engage the organization to as to understand, monitor, and support efforts to achieve the goals.

2. Develop a Critical Mass of Employees with High Interactive Skills. On the other hand, setting clear goals without developing the organization is as likely to backfire as not. The Clinton Significant Event Report (SER), for example, pointed out that goal alignment was actually part of the problem leading to the 1996 incident at that station. The SER cites management emphases on the need to maximize plant capacity factors and minimize forced outage rate " as an underlying cause...goals which are shared by every nuclear plant in the nation.

Such goals need to be balanced with a carefully reinforced emphasis on conservative decision making and surfacing of issues. A culture of openness must be fostered or vital information will stay underground. To this end, a critical mass of employees at all levels of the organization must work on their leadership skills. This learning must be experiential and not just standard classroom, and be reinforced in subsequent live work interactions.

The behavioral skill set should include an increased capacity to foster a productive nuclear safety environment by giving clear direction, taking a stand for what you believe in, holding yourself and others accountable, fostering communication up and down the hierarchy, managing conflict, connecting with emotional intelligence to all levels of the organization, and continually developing yourself, others, and the organization.

Without intentional on-going development, complacency results. THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE OF SUCCESSSFUL ORGANIZATIONS! All individuals and organizations have blind spots. As the Clinton VP put it: We believe complacency played an important part in our performance decline. We thought we had established all the programs and practices necessary to be a top performing plant. " 

3. Cascade Goal Alignment and Continuous Improvement Conversations in all Intact Teams.  Renew on a regular basis. Every team should stop periodically to assess how it`s functioning. Bosses and subordinates need honest feedback from each other, and the entire group needs to strategize on how to improve their work within the context of the organization`s goals. This should be an expectation, with guidelines, not just a nice to do " which is done any which way.

Crosby`s strategy of work group continuous improvement was sustained for years at PECO Nuclear through a unique survey-feedback process, and through new reporting relationship (NRR) meetings. The survey process allowed each intact work group to see their own data, derive their own conclusions, and develop to problems within their own sphere of influence. The NRR meetings occurred at all levels. They served the dual purpose of supporting a smooth transition whenever a leadership change occurred, and of seizing continuous improvement opportunities during the change.

4. Drive Cultural Change through Key Cross-Functional Projects. At PECO Nuclear this was done through changing the approach to outages. Change doesn`t come through training (although training can support change). Change the organization by implementing desired behaviors in the context of key initiatives. Outage execution, for example, is an excellent time to reinforce single point accountability, conservative decision making, conflict resolution skills, surfacing of issues, and related behaviors.

5. Create a cadre of key line people early in the process who can help facilitate the change.  At PECO Nuclear many of these people rose through the ranks in the organization, including the current VP at Limerick. These people, craft as well as manager personnel at PECO Nuclear, must have all of high interactive skills mentioned above. At Peach Bottom, they were woven into every initiative, and provided the following on a formal and informal basis: 

  • Individual coaching regarding conflict, communication skills, etc.
  • Third party conflict resolution
  • Meeting design and/or facilitation
  • Survey feedback and NRR facilitation

In short, the transformation of PECO Nuclear was no fluke. Many variables came together, including great personnel and a unique burning platform. Nonetheless, the organizational development approach described above was a critical enabler, and continues to be implemented in nuclear and non-nuclear organizations to this day. 

Start with yourself. No matter how good you are, you will be caught up in some dysfunctional patterns. Whatever is not working now is being co-created by you. You are inevitably part of the dance. If you initiate change by fixing others, you`ll be seen as a do as I say, not as I do " sort of leader, cajoling others to straighten themselves out while continuing your own ineffective patterns. Don`t blame the followers. Lead as a learner-leader. Quit dancing your part in the patterns you complain about. Lead with yourself. "

by Robert P. Crosby, The Authentic Leader