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Importance of the Nuclear Safety Culture

Ken Byrd
Ken Byrd
As director of engineering at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant, I’m privileged to be part of a workforce of professionals who recognize their responsibility for upholding safety and make it a priority every day. The U.S. nuclear industry is one of the safest industries in the world, due to close regulation by federal authorities, highly trained and experienced professionals, and a vigorous “safety-in-depth” philosophy applied to the design and construction of our facilities.

But perhaps the defining characteristic of the nuclear industry is a culture that puts safety above all else in everything we do.

Our industry is guided by a set of 10 principles that outline the traits of a robust nuclear safety culture and remind us each of the important role we play in upholding the health and safety of our communities. When put into practice, the nuclear safety culture principles ensure we are meeting the energy needs of our customers while also protecting the environment, our communities and our workforce in the most safe and efficient way possible.

The principles are grounded in the concept of personal accountability, where each individual takes ownership for upholding nuclear, radiological and personal safety in all of their work activities. They also emphasize a healthy questioning attitude, rigorous decision-making practices, and a problem identification and resolution process which together ensure conditions and activities are continuously challenged and fully and effectively addressed. And importantly, the principles place a high value on maintaining an environment where nuclear workers are encouraged to raise safety concerns without fear of reprisal for doing so.

I’ve seen the importance of a strong nuclear safety culture first hand as a longtime employee of Davis-Besse. In the early 2000s, I was an engineering supervisor at the site when we conducted an extended shutdown to address some significant equipment issues. Through a very honest, critical look at our performance, we identified the need to improve our process for challenging existing conditions and activities to ensure that every decision and action supported safe, error-free performance.

It was a sobering process, to be sure. Yet every one of Davis-Besse’s employees, from the site vice president to the individual turning a wrench in the plant, recognized the experience as an opportunity to learn from the past – another of the safety culture principles – and produce nothing short of world-class performance in the future.
Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station
Today, Davis-Besse is realizing that goal. In addition to twice receiving a most improved plant award, the site has been recognized for excellence in operations by the U.S. nuclear industry for the past six years. Davis-Besse has consistently attained a forced lose rate – which measures the percentage of time a unit is not producing electricity due to an unplanned power reduction or outage – in the top ten percent of the industry, and our capacity factor is above industry average and significantly higher than other forms of generation. The safest plants are also the most efficient and productive facilities, and that’s especially important as we consider the important role of nuclear power in delivering environmentally-friendly and affordable power.

All of these accomplishments mean we are delivering safe, reliable, clean and affordable power to customers, when they need it. None of this could have been achieved without a strong nuclear safety culture as our cornerstone.

I am proud of what I have accomplished in my 36 years as a nuclear professional, and even more fulfilled by the safe and reliable operating record attained as a team by my peers across the industry. As our country moves towards a clean energy future, the nuclear industry is poised to lead that shift with safety as our top priority.

The above post was sent to us by FirstEnergy's Ken Byrd for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. It aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

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