A new world order1 June 2010
During its Biennial General Meeting in January and early February, the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) said it plans to restructure to keep up with the changing nuclear landscape. The industry organisation also revealed that it has completed the mammoth task of peer reviewing every nuclear plant in the world. Since September 2009, the organisation’s managing director has been George Felgate, who has spent 28 of his 39-year nuclear industry career at WANO’s US subsidiary INPO. NEI’s Caroline Peachey asked what organisational changes WANO is planning.
George Felgate: The biggest change is in the membership policy. Twenty years ago, when WANO was formed, an approach was taken to allow one ordinary member per country. The change that took place at the BGM allows all nuclear operators to become members. This could potentially increase the number of members from 35 (including operator organisations) to around 120. Another change is to the governing board structure to allow more CEO involvement.
Q: What is the timeline for implementing these changes?
Everything will be fully implemented by the next BGM, to be held in China in 2011. The membership changes will be complete in the next few months and changes to the structure of the board by October.
Q: How has the industry changed since WANO was formed; why are you making these structural changes?
There has been a change in the demographics of the nuclear industry around the world. In other words, 20 years ago membership by country made sense. Today, there are many more multi-national operators. A good example is China, with three or four major operating companies. Does it make sense to allow just one of these to be a member?
Another driver is the nuclear renaissance. With an increasing number of countries expressing interest in nuclear power, WANO needs to be more nimble and proactive. The third reason is that we’ve seen a plateau in WANO’s worldwide performance indicators over the last several years. In my mind, there needs to be continual improvement. Also, the original structure of the organisation had limited the direct interaction between WANO and the operating company CEOs.
Q: How have WANO’s goals and priorities changed since the organisation was formed?
The number-one goal has always been nuclear safety and preventing a nuclear safety significant event. That goal will never change; it will always be our top priority.
But, just like any other business, priorities change every year. Some items that are higher on our priority list are the new plants that are planning to start up. I don’t think the public will tolerate a plant starting up and having problems just because the crew or plant lacks operating experience.
A large number of new workers are coming into the industry – at one plant under construction, around 60% of the workforce is new. WANO has a role to play in helping newcomers understand how the nuclear industry is different and to help them build on our past experience.
We will also be involved with helping potential new nuclear countries like the UAE, Jordan and Egypt. The UAE has already approached WANO for membership. We have an obligation to members to ensure that new plants start up safely… so we intend to get involved with them very early, before they even start putting a hole in ground. Even though we’re five-plus years away, we will sit down with them and map out a plan of engagement. Some of the main issues are operator training. I think there’s going to be a continuous process of engagement right through the construction phase with more active participation during fuel loading and start-up to ensure safety is good.
Q: We have seen a plateau in the performance indicators [published annually by WANO] over the last few years. Have we reached a limit or is there still scope for improvement?
No, we’ve not reached a limit. I can’t think of a single one of the indicators that cannot be further improved. Also, the indicators are based on the median plant performance. Another issue is to address is the gap between the best and worst performing plants. In this industry, we are only as good as the weakest link.
Q: How big is the gap between the best and worst reactors in terms of safety performance, and how does this compare with 20 years ago?
The exact numbers differ by every indicator and by every reactor type. But, what I can tell you is that – just like the overall trend – the gap had decreased for many years but has not narrowed in the last few years.
Q: Can you give an example of how WANO work has helped to close the gap?
There are a number of things that WANO is doing to address this. We are focussing special attention on plants that need the most help. Every regional director [WANO has four regional offices in Atlanta, Paris, Moscow and Tokyo] knows which plants those are and, as a result, their requests for technical support are treated as high priority. Each centre, in fact, has dedicated people working to help those outlier plants and find ways WANO can offer additional support and/or assistance.
Q: There has been a rise in radiation exposure at RBMKs during the last few years, while figures for others reactor types have remained relatively constant. Can you explain this?
I’d like to preface my remarks by saying the figures are already at a low level. When you look at the longer history of WANO, the figures have shown a decline for all reactor types and are well below all regulatory limits.
As a general trend, more and more plants are embarking on life extensions and power uprates, which require modifications and replacement of major pieces of equipment. A third factor is inspections of piping for minor defects, which is occurring for several reactor types.
All of this is working against us and while I’m not satisfied with the numbers, I can understand why they are a bit flat. One of the things WANO is going to do is to set worldwide goals for all of these indicators. These goals will enable us to sit down with operators on a frequent (annual or more regular) basis and talk to them. It will help put the spotlight on plants that may not be doing as well as they could be. Focussing on the outliers will get the curves moving the right direction.
The goals have been in place for a year on a trial basis. At the next board meeting, this idea will be presented and, if approved, it will hopefully be implemented worldwide.
Q: Currently, 82% of the operating nuclear plants report all eleven of the indicators. Why not all of them?
The aim is to get 100% of plants reporting all of the indicators. But plants are not reporting for a variety of different reasons. To give a couple of examples, the chemistry indicator isn’t reported from one country because they don’t currently have the equipment to report the figures to the right level. We are working with the country authorities to address this.
Another region has not kept separate records of contractor industrial safety accident rates. They are now recording this data, but won’t start reporting for a couple of years.
Q: Are the 2009 performance indicators available? Do these continue with the same trend?
They are currently undergoing verification and validation and should be available shortly. We already have third quarter 2009 data and the numbers have come down in a several areas such as collective radiation exposure.
Q: WANO said in February that it has now carried out a peer review of every commercial NPP. This seems like a huge undertaking.
It’s a significant achievement that every operator of a commercial nuclear power plant has now opened its plant to peer reviewers from around the world. How many other industries can say that? Not the airline or petrochemical industries – it’s a pretty unique characteristic to our industry.
Q: Have many plants have been visited more than once?
WANO started conducting peer reviews in 1992. Since then, every plant has been visited at least once. Most plants have had two or more visits. Some plants have requested more frequent visits – the maximum number to a single plant is around seven or eight.
Q: How are the peer reviews arranged?
Each WANO member can affiliate with one of the four regions. That regional office then schedules and manages the conduct of the peer reviews. Peer reviews typically last about four weeks, with two weeks normally spent on site. The review team [approximately 20 people] looks at eight different functional areas: organisation & administration, operation, maintenance, technical support, chemistry, radiation protection, training, and fire protection.
Q: How do you choose the reviewers, and who goes where?
Most of the reviewers come from the regional area where the plant is a member. But each mission always includes people from the other regions; so the team is truly international.
The key is to send experts in the same reactor technology. For example, if you were doing in a peer review in India you would send someone from Canada rather than the USA, which has no PHWRs. We ask stations to provide their best and brightest people to be reviewers. All stations commit to sending managerial-level staff, because after the review has been conducted, the reviewer sits down with their counterpart and has a conversation about what could be done better. For credibility this has to be a peer-to-peer exchange.
Q; Has the process of arranging visits and the peer review process changed since you started doing this?
Yes, it’s changed over the years. The areas we look at have changed and we are constantly re-evaluating to see if new areas should be added. We have just added two areas: training and chemistry. Since we started the review process, the nature of the issues has also changed. Twenty years ago, the issues were primarily equipment-related (60%). Today, as shown by the indicators, units are running much more reliably. The issues we are seeing are more people-related and are much harder to identify.
Related ArticlesHappy birthday to WANO WANO elects new executives WANO appoints new managing director Egypt to go nuclear? WANO elects CGNPC chairman as honourary president