Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thoughts from Rod Adams on Peach Bottom's Sleeping Guards

Rod asks:

Should we be concerned about guards sleeping in a "ready room"?

Late last year there was a lot of hype about a series of cell phone videos recorded by a new security guard at the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station of fellow guards dozing off while in a room identified as a "ready room". Having never actually been on the commercial side of the nuclear business, I am still having some difficulty with understanding why it would be a big deal.

In the military, we have "ready rooms" where people gather for briefings and to await orders to take action. Generally speaking, the people on alert in ready rooms are in full gear and ready to move when called, but there is often a lengthy period of waiting before the call actually occurs. Sometimes days can expire without any call to action. As some wise observer once described the situation "hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of pure adrenaline."

When in this kind of "ready room" waiting period, experienced military people grab naps whenever possible, knowing that it might be their last opportunity for quite some time. I have spoken to a lot of people who have been in combat units; they have the same mentality about napping when things are quiet. Unlike people who are wrapped up in warm blankets and used to full night sleeps, however, combat troops and sailors on alert can go from dead sleep to full alert and motion in a matter of seconds.

...

I have a strong sense of responsibility about nuclear plant safety, but I think that the reaction here should have been to explain to the public that the guards caught on camera by an inexperienced guard - whose motives might bear some investigation - were doing exactly what they were supposed to do during breaks in the "ready room". They were getting their bodies ready for a response by getting some rest during a long and frequently boring shift work job.
More here.

Update: Even more from Rod.
I am willing to be proven wrong about my theory that this "incident" was blown all out of proportion and that a case could be made that naps for security guards during their long shifts are potentially beneficial to safety.

19 comments:

Gunter said...

Dream on.

The sleeping guards run much deeper than Rod Adams would rather have us nod off on.

Might this have something to do with corporate bottomlines and security budget that push 12 hour shifts for extended periods of time to the point of fitness for duty challenges?

You know, it would be interesting to see the cost of security per megawatt for Coal Oil Nuclear vs. renewables energy.

Of course, given the Iraq war, big oil, hands down, has the highest security cost. High grade uranium ore has its own strategic value and cost. Solar and wind do not have these costs.

Nuclear facility security costs are greater when factoring not only guard forces but the structural costs for in depth and redundant defense of release of the radioactivity inventory. At least, you would thin, it should be. That cost is significantly rising--given required and proper analysis of just the aircraft impact hazard.

Westinghouse and General Electric designers were apparently asleep too given the deliberate aircraft impact hazard was never considered for the current PWR and BWR fleet. NRC and industry apparently look to snore through with the exemption of the AP600, AP1000, ABWR and the 80+PWR from aircraft impact hazard anaylsis.

What was disturbing as well was NRC investigation of the guard who blew the whistle on the nap station. I understand the hard drive on his computer was subpeonaed to harass and intimidate further disclosures.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the arguement posed, but I can't accept that sleeping on the job would ever be acceptable. I have to assume that the same guards that were sleeping in the ready room were also responsible for performing active surveilance(e.g., monitoring surveilance cameras). If they were sleeping and the bad guys had showed-up ........who was going to wake-up the sleeping beauties in the ready room to respond?

I'm sure this type of position is conducive to REM sleep. I envision these guys/gals working 12 hour shifts with little change of scenery. I'm sure the monotony is brutal, but it is the responsibility of their management to overcome these human performance issues.

I was reading Gunter's response, and he does establish a good point that security costs for alternative sources are essentially non-existent. But I have to ask.....Is renewable energy a viable option to supplement the baseload electricity demands in the US. If not, then this arguement is not valid for this topic. Although the security price tag might be high, the stability that this source of energy offers to the US portfolio is invaluable.

William

Rod Adams said...

William:

You wrote: "I can't accept that sleeping on the job would ever be acceptable." While I understand how average American employees can hold that opinion, those of us in certain kinds of employment live differently.

For example - when I was serving on a submarine, I considered myself to be "on the job" from the time I left home until the time I finished turning over my responsibilities to the relieving crew. That was a 105 day long period at the time. Obviously, it is impossible for anyone to function for that length of time without sleep.

In response to Gunter - take a look at my full post. I provided several examples of other professions where naps during long shifts are an important part of being able to function when needed. My daughter, who became an Registered Nurse last summer, is in a profession like security where 12 hour shifts are routine. The reason is similar - turnovers (aka shift changes) are a risky time and it makes sense to reduce them to the minimum.

Eight hour days might be the norm for many professions, but there are many costs imposed by increasing the number of shift changes by 50% when moving from a 12 hour day to an 8 hour day.

Of course, since you are a full time critic, I imagine that the notion of working for 12 hours at a time must seem completely outside of your experience. I wonder what you think of people like my fellow sailors who work 12-18 hour days for months at a time. My 105 day periods actually pale in comparison to those of some of my aircraft carrier colleagues who have sometimes deployed for more than 200 days at a time without a port call.

Thank you, however, for mentioning that the security cost of oil and gas is a bit higher than that for uranium fission. Of course, that has been true since long before the Iraq war - I have had Navy colleagues in the Gulf protecting American oil interests for my entire career.

As David quoted me - I think that the motivations of the reporting guard bear some investigation. The guy was just hired in January, 2007. Where did he come from? Does he have any ties to the competitive gas and coal industries that might give him a motivation for seeking to damage the reputation of the nuclear industry? Could he be working for a professional anti-nuclear group under cover? Stranger things have happened - I recall a story about journalists with an anti-nuclear bias posing as students in order to make security at research reactors come under question.

Whistleblowers can play an important role in keeping big business and powerful government agencies from taking advantage of their power. However, that should not give a free pass to opposition to hide under whistleblower protection.

perdajz said...

As always, Gunter needs a lesson or two.

First off, the security per megawatt doesn't matter: it is only the total cost per megawatt that matters. It's a meaningless comparison. It's like me bragging about the fact that the nuclear power industry doesn't need as many wind power laborers, coal miners, or accountants, or whatever, as does the coal industry, or the diffuse energy industry. The fact that wind and solar power don't have security concerns does nothing to make them economic or competitive with nuclear power. In total, nuclear power requires fewer workers, of any kind, and raw materials per kw-hr, owing to the tremendous physical advantages of the source fuel.

Nevertheless, the security cost per kw-hr for fossil fuels is effectively zero because fossil fuels are free to kill and pollute with impugnity. A coal plant might annually send a hundred people to their graves a bit sooner. If you can get away with this, why bother to calculate the cost of a few extra security guards?

The security costs for nuclear power are (arguably) significant in an absolute sense because the standards for public health and safety are so stringent, and because the nuclear power industry takes this mandate so seriously. They are small on a relative scale because of the amount of electricity generated by nuclear power. Again, nuclear power might require security guards, but requires fewer laborers, miners, drivers, etc., etc., because uranium is orders of magnitude more energy rich than any fossil fuel.

Wind and solar power are trivial in output, but they have their externalities and safety problems as well. These problems only seem small because of the small output of the diffuse energy industry, but they have become apparent as these industries try to scale up. The wind power industy doesn't have much of a safety record to brag about. Some observers, including Paul Gipe, think that the whole wind power cycle might not be any safer, per kw-hr, than coal mining.

Anonymous said...

Rod:

First, thanks for your service to our country. I can't imagine the personal sacrifice and teamwork that goes into living out to sea for extended periods of time.

I will concede that if these guys who were sleeping were on their designated lunch break or another scheduled break, then I have no issue. But if it was during their assigned working time, I have a hard time believing this is acceptable.

Even though I am an "Average American", who works in the nuclear industry, I fully understand the example you brought up in regards to living on a sub, working extended shifts in a hospital, working 24 hour shifts at the Fire Dept, etc. But the security guards you mentioned are working 12's. If that is the case then it must be acceptable for a Senior Reactor Operator, who is working some heinous schedules, to snooze on duty.

William

Rod Adams said...

William:

On my blog at Atomic Insights, I embedded a video link to a YouTube video showing the napping guards.

It is clear that they were in a break room and were not sitting in front of any displays that require monitoring.

There is a huge difference between the situation there and the one in a control room.

However, I would hope that no utility would assign Senior Reactor Operators a work schedule that includes 12 hour shifts on a routine basis with no ability to take a break.

My point about napping is that it is a way to extend human performance in situations where there is not a high constant demand for attention. I would never condone an on-watch reactor operator who dozed any more than I would a truck driver who dozed while driving. However, if I was their employer, I would happily allow them to take a break for a quick nap that rejuvenated them and allowed them to continue their duties in a more alert mode.

Based on what I know about the size of the guard force at nuclear power plants and the basis for that size, I presume that there are ample people on site to allow a portion of the force to be on break at any one time.

The videos I saw only showed a few guards napping at any one time and they were all in a room that was pretty obviously a break room.

Anonymous said...

While I see your point, I would have to disagree with you on this one Rod. As someone said, they are not 24 hour soldiers, but 12 hour shift workers.

Gunter said...

Well, despite whatever your opinion is on sleeping guards, the fact of the matter is that Wackenhut lost all its Exelon contracts, the CEO resigned and the company changed its name.

Evidently, that was not supposed to be a nap station.

Anonymous said...

Rod Adams is 100% correct - again.

Paul Primavera

Matthew66 said...

IMHO if a company is going to employ people for 12 hour shifts that include a significant amount of standby time, then it should structure the employees' time and work environment appropriately.

Nobody assumes that an airline pilot or flight attendant scheduled for an 18 hour flight from New York to Singapore or Bangkok would actually be expected to be alert for 18 hours. The airlines, regulators and employee unions negotiate sensible provisions for crew rest. Time during the flight and space in the airliner are assigned for crew rest. The same should be the case for the security forces at an industrial facility. If a crew of 20 is required to respond to an emergency, but only eight are required for routine patrols, logically 12 should be on standby in a crew rest area (appropriately designed with sleeper seats) to ensure that the crew are not exhausted if they need to respond to an emergency. The crew would rotate from active patrol to standby during the course of their 12 hour shift.

This is an area that utilities, the NRC and employee unions need to work on with some urgency.

Please remember that news organizations such as CBS are primarily interested in selling advertising, purveying a balanced view of the world is a secondary consideration.

Anonymous said...

It is not supposed to be a nap station, but my guess is that Wackenhut's actions were a result of the bad publicity this incident gave them, and they were anxious to start with a clean slate. That's happened before in many businesses.

Anonymous said...

"When in this kind of "ready room" waiting period, experienced military people grab naps whenever possible"

Maybe DOD's rules are different. But for an on-duty security officer at a NPP, this is a violation of NRC regulations.

As David quoted me - I think that the motivations of the reporting guard bear some investigation. The guy was just hired in January, 2007. Where did he come from? Does he have any ties to the competitive gas and coal industries..." (etc.)

Rod, don't just make stuff up. It does your argument no service, and is pretty close to libel.

Also, are you saying that WACKENHUT's pre-employment background checks would not pick up that he was affiliated with anti-nuclear interests?

Anonymous said...

I am on the side that these guys were supposed to be awake. It was a failure that they were asleep, and moreover, a failure that the security management did not detect it and that it emerged as a whistle-blower disclosure. Wackenhut deserved to get its contract yanked, because this is lousy commercial service that Wackenhut provided.

To operate well nuclear plants require highly competent employees, working within a highly competent system of management. The technology is to complex to function otherwise. It's a mistake to soft peddle or attempt to justify sleeping on the job when it clearly violated security expectations.

Wackenhut needs to figure out how to keep its people awake when they are on duty, and the evidence is that they don't know how to do this. I expect my mechanic to keep my car running, and if they cannot I'll go to someone else. Wackenhut will further damage itself it it does not acknowledge that it provided a highly defective product and that it must reform itself or become extinct.

I'll bet that Exelon will do a better job than Wackenhut in providing effective (and awake) security. I don't want the guy who has 20 seconds to be into position to be asleep at the zero-second mark.

362 said...

I can understand all of the points of view expressed here, but until you have really been "on the inside" you don't know what it's like to be a nuclear security officer. I do. I am one. Those of you who work 8 hour days, usually get a 15-20 minute morning break, a lunch hour and an afternoon break of another 15-20 minutes. When you need to use the bathroom you can. So don't criticize those of us who work 12 hour days with no breaks whatsoever, not even a chance to use a bathroom in some kind of peace and dignity. We work a day and a half for every day you work. When you add in turnover time, we work far more hours in 4 days than you would work in 6. All without breaks, and in many case the schedule is arranged to cheat the officers out of overtime pay as well. While it would seem that doing nothing would be a pretty easy job, it is not. The industry is waking up to the fact that human beings are not built to work these kinds of hours for extended periods of time. Rules banning reading, listening to music, and even congregating were just relaxed within the last few years. And progressive management now supplies TV, DVD players, music players and most important, human contact. We avoid isolated posts when possible, as the team helps keep each other awake. I have heard it said that we are overpaid for what we do, but if we are ever called on to do what we prepare for and are ready to do, we will be grossly underpaid for a brief, crucial period of time.

Anonymous said...

Alright, down the nitty gritty of the matter. The "ready room" is located well within the depths of levels of security. Without disclosing vital information I can safely say these responders in the ready room would have enuff time to wake up, shave, have a cup of coffee and proceed to their response points before an intruder could.

As in the military a Ready room is one of the last lines of defense, if someone were to ever get to this point there would be serious trouble regardless.

Now as for the setup of a ready room, there are no camera's to be monitored, nobody to be watching. You simply sit in a room, listen to CD's, if your lucky the plant may have a TV for you to watch.

As for the 12 hour days, think again, try 13 1/2+ hours per day between your time you must be there and the time you get to leave. Most of these plants are in the middle of nowhere so your looking at about a 1 hour drive to and from.

Now let's talk about days off.... Well they are suppose to exist, but it's very often that you are working 72 hours (NRC limit) of actual shift time per 7 days. So with the extra 1 hour per day for arming/briefs thats 78 hours per week. Then there is mandatory training on your days off as well. You could always say your "not fit for duty" and sure they have to honor and respect it, but then again if you don't want to lose your job, it's a good idea not to say that.

Right now the NRC works off of a design basis threat, and yes I'd call it flawed to say the least.

The biggest success of terrorists as a whole was convincing the public and policy makers that they are crazy and stupid people, when in fact they are VERY smart and dedicated.

Steve Caudill said...

Well, why were they sleeping, too much overtime, a hangover, cold medicine? You NEI ex-nuclear navy fools are going to be sorry for downplaying these 'sleeping guard' types of iss ues, just like you were sorry (along with your nuclear navy partners at NRC)back during the Davis-Besse 'no big problem' problem.
If the sleeping guards problem was really not a problem, then this matter would have lasted about 10 minutes. Also, why was a guard videotaping inside a nuke plant with his cell phone anyway. As for discrediting the guard's motives, that opens up a whole new can of worms in that who wants a guard force sans camaraderie or esprit de corps. Would this allegedly guard risk a bullet to save a vital equipment or a fellow guard? Would he risk his butt for the greater good, or drop his gun and run. LASTLY, HOW ABOUT BUBBA & FRIENDS OVER AT THE LLEA, ARE THEY SLEEPING TOO? ARE THEY EVEN PSYCH-SCREENED AND DRUG TESTED, WITH SUPERVISORS TRAINED IN BEHAVIORAL OBSERVATION PER 10 CFR 73? I'd rank NEI up there with al-Qaeda and NRC as the biggest threats to US nuclear safety and security. Oh yeah, unrelated question, did your power plants' spent fuel accountants learn to count yet?

Steve Caudill said...

continuing on, I was an NRC inspector for 19 years, and an IAEA inspector for 2.5 years. As for the latter, we spent upwards of 120 days in 3rd world countries, jet-lagged, living in primitive hotels, etc., none of us thought to take a nap while inspecting a nuke plant, and yes there were many long 12 plus hour days. I should add here that as IAEA inspector and additional 5 years for NRC FSU programs, well boys, the foreign nuke plant operators think American nukes and NRC are jokes, they take your 'assistance programs' with many grains of salt, and I sum it up with, "Thank God for the Swedes, Finns and WANO."

Brian Mays said...

"I'd rank NEI up there with al-Qaeda and NRC as the biggest threats to US nuclear safety and security. ... I was an NRC inspector for 19 years ..."

Your persistent efforts to undermine US nuclear safety and security are duly noted and recognized. I'm sure that they are greatly appreciated ... by al-Qaeda, at the very least.

It's good to know that even old articles on this blog are still capable of attracting the mentally unbalanced.

Anonymous said...

To protect the nuclear option of carbon-free power we need to adopt the approach of the Aspen Daily News:

If you don't want it printed don't let it happen.