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19 July 2011. Previous:

DOE on Nuclear Waste Site Failed Safety Culture

[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 138 (Tuesday, July 19, 2011)]
[Pages 42686-42688]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office []
[FR Doc No: 2011-18084]



DOE Response to Recommendation 2011-1 of the Defense Nuclear 
Facilities Safety Board, Safety Culture at the Waste Treatment and 
Immobilization Plant

AGENCY: Department of Energy.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: On June 09, 2011, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board 
affirmed their Recommendation 2011-1, concerning Safety Culture at the 
Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, to the Department of Energy. 
In accordance with section 315(b) of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as 
amended, 42 U.S.C. 2286d(b), The following represents the Secretary of 
Energy's response to the recommendation.

ADDRESSES: Send comments, data, views, or arguments concerning the 
Secretary's response to: Defense Nuclear

[[Page 42687]]

Facilities Safety Board, 625 Indiana Avenue, NW., Suite 700, 
Washington, DC 20004.

Departmental Representative to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety 
Board, Office of Health, Safety and Security, U.S. Department of 
Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20585.

    Issued in Washington, DC, on July 6, 2011.
Mari-Josette Campagnone,
Departmental Representative to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety 
Board, Office of Health, Safety and Security.

June 30, 2011.
The Honorable Peter S. Winokur,
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board,
625 Indiana Avenue, NW, Suite 700,
Washington, DC 20004-2901.

    Dear Mr. Chairman:
    The Department of Energy (DOE) acknowledges receipt of Defense 
Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) Recommendation 2011-1, 
Safety Culture at the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, 
issued on June 9, 2011. DOE views nuclear safety and assuring a 
robust safety culture as essential to the success of the Waste 
Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) and all of our projects 
across the DOE complex.
    As the Board notes in the introduction to this Recommendation, 
DOE committed itself to establishing and maintaining a strong 
nuclear safety culture almost 20 years ago through Secretary of 
Energy Notice SEN-35-91, Nuclear Safety Policy. This commitment was 
reiterated and confirmed in February 2011, in DOE Policy 420.1, 
Department of Energy Nuclear Safety Policy. We agree with the 
Board's position that establishment of a strict safety culture must 
be a fundamental principle throughout the DOE complex, and we are in 
unqualified agreement with the Board that the WTP mission is 
essential to protect the health and safety of the public, our 
workers, and the environment from radioactive wastes in aging 
storage tanks at Hanford.
    It is DOE policy and practice to design, construct, operate, and 
decommission its nuclear facilities in a manner that ensures 
adequate protection of workers, the public, and the environment. DOE 
line management is both responsible and accountable for assuring 
that such adequate protection is at the core of how we conduct 
business at our nuclear facilities. We hold our contractors to the 
same standard. A strong nuclear safety and quality culture is the 
foundation of our work.
    Over the past year, the Department has undertaken a broad range 
of steps to assure a strong and questioning safety culture at WTP 
and sites across the DOE complex. We will only be successful if we 
remain committed to continuous improvement and teamwork. DOE takes 
all safety concerns--whether from our employees, our contractors, 
the Board, or third-parties--very seriously. This input is an 
integral part of the Department's efforts to constantly strengthen 
nuclear safety at our facilities.
    Even though the Department cannot accept the allegations without 
the opportunity to evaluate the Board's full investigative record, 
in the spirit of continual improvement DOE accepts the Board's 
recommendations to assert federal control to direct, track, and 
validate corrective actions to strengthen the safety culture at WTP; 
conduct an extent of condition review to assess safety culture 
issues beyond the WTP project; and support the ongoing Department of 
Labor (DOL) review of Dr. Tamosaitis' case.
    Reinforcing and maintaining a strong safety culture at WTP and 
all DOE sites will require a wide range of approaches, including 
engagement by senior DOE officials, employee input and 
participation, self assessments, independent oversight by the Office 
of Health, Safety and Security (HSS), recommendations from the 
Board, and an open and transparent process to identify and implement 
technical issues and corrective actions.
    We agree with the Board that ``federal and contract managers 
must make a special effort to foster a free and open atmosphere in 
which all competent opinions are judged on their technical merit, to 
sustain or improve worker and public safety first and foremost, and 
then [to] evaluate potential impacts of cost and schedule.'' These 
expectations are clearly articulated in DOE Policy 442.1, Differing 
Professional Opinion; DOE Manual 442.1-1, Differing Professional 
Opinions Manual for Technical Issues Involving Environment, Safety, 
and Health, and DOE Order 442.1A, Department of Energy Employee 
Concerns Program.
    To assure that these issues were being appropriately addressed 
following Dr. Tamosaitis' initial allegations, the Assistant 
Secretary for Environmental Management (EM) requested that HSS 
conduct a comprehensive analysis of the safety culture at WTP.
    In October 2010, HSS completed its investigation, which included 
interviews with more than 250 employees. While HSS found that the 
fundamentals of a robust safety culture were present at WTP, the 
report identified the need for improvement in key areas, including, 
among others: more clearly defining federal roles and 
responsibilities; identifying mechanisms to strengthen trust among 
the workforce and better communicate information to employees; and 
putting in place processes to ensure nuclear safety programs remain 
robust and effective during project changes.
    The corrective actions that address the recommendations from the 
HSS report will be fully implemented by September 30, 2011. HSS will 
then conduct a follow-on visit to assure that these steps were 
executed effectively across the project, as well as to perform 
additional analysis to determine if cost and schedule pressures are 
challenging the implementation of a robust nuclear safety culture.
    DOE and Bechtel National, Incorporated (BNI)--the prime 
contractor on the WTP project--have been engaged in a variety of 
initiatives to strengthen the nuclear safety culture at WTP for over 
a year. Steps that have already occurred include completing a 
revision to the WTP Project Execution Plan, currently under review, 
to more clearly delineate federal roles and organizational 
responsibilities at WTP and the Office of River Protection (ORP), 
and conducting a number of employee forums to ensure that employees 
clearly understand the changes in those roles and responsibilities.
    Also in response to the HSS recommendations, BNI commissioned a 
confidential survey of more than 300 WTP employees to assess if a 
Nuclear Safety Quality Culture (NSQC) gap existed at the site and to 
identify additional areas for improvement. As a result, the 
contractor assigned a retired Navy Admiral and former nuclear 
utility executive experienced in application of Institute of Nuclear 
Power Operations (INPO) methods as the Manager of NSQC 
Implementation for the project. To date, approximately 1,600 people 
at the site, including all senior managers, have received training 
focused on making the workforce comfortable with raising issues and 
systematically moving issues through to resolution. In addition, 
over the last 13 months, BNI has conducted three all-hands meetings 
with DOE project team participation to emphasize the importance of a 
robust nuclear safety culture.
    Even while some initiatives are already underway, we recognize 
the need to continue improving nuclear safety at WTP and across the 
complex. To that end, DOE has developed a comprehensive action plan 
to address the Board's specific recommendations to strengthen the 
safety culture at WTP. Initial steps are discussed below:
     The Deputy Secretary and I will continue to be 
personally engaged in asserting federal control to ensure the 
specific corrective actions to strengthen safety culture within the 
WTP project in both contractor and federal workforces--consistent 
with DOE Policy 420.1--are tracked and validated. Federal control 
within the WTP project has been and will continue to be asserted and 
regularly reinforced through our direct involvement.
     This will include a series of ``town-hall'' style 
meetings hosted by senior DOE officials to highlight for workers the 
importance of maintaining a strong nuclear safety culture at each of 
our sites and to solicit their input. These forums across the DOE 
complex will also help improve the direct communication of safety 
issues between senior managers and employees.
     To address the concern regarding extent of condition, 
HSS will independently review the safety culture across the entire 
complex. This review will provide insights into the health of safety 
culture within Headquarters organizations, different program 
offices, and different field sites.
     In addition, DOE and BNI are arranging Safety Conscious 
Work Environment (SCWE) training for BNI and ORP managers and 
supervisors with a firm that conducts SCWE training for the 
Institute of Nuclear Power Operations Senior Nuclear Plant Manager's 
     We will also be joining with BNI to sponsor an 
independent, executive-level

[[Page 42688]]

assessment of the project's nuclear safety culture by a group of 
nuclear industry subject matter experts, who have experience in INPO 
evaluations and/or Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspections.
     At both a site and corporate level, we are also taking 
steps to enhance reporting mechanisms for safety-related concerns. 
At the Hanford site, we have combined the Employee Concerns Programs 
for ORP and the Richland Operations Office to leverage existing 
resources to both strengthen this important program and increase its 
visibility at the site.
     Within EM Headquarters, we have established ombudsmen 
to act as advocates for employees and their concerns. We have made 
it easier for employees to use a variety of avenues to raise 
concerns, including: the line management for each project, site 
employee concerns programs, union representatives, EM's Office of 
Safety and Security Programs, HSS, and DOE's Chief of Nuclear 
Safety. Each office now offers employees access to both a hotline 
number and general email inbox, so that workers will have the 
opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns either directly or 
     We will also require that both EM Headquarters and 
field sites assess nuclear safety culture and the implementation of 
a safety conscious work environment in their annual submittals for 
Integrated Safety Management System (ISMS) declarations. The 
specific criteria will build on the existing requirements for the 
ISMS declarations and will be expanded to include safety culture 
principles not only from DOE, but also from INPO and NRC.
     Regarding your final recommendation, when the 
Department became aware of Dr. Tamosaitis' petition to the Board, 
the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management immediately 
requested the Department's Inspector General to perform an 
investigation into the alleged retaliation issues raised by Dr. 
Tamosaitis. The Office of the Inspector General decided not to 
examine the merits of the allegations since they were already the 
focus of an ongoing investigation by DOL, which has jurisdiction and 
expertise to review whistle blower claims. The Department will fully 
cooperate with the DOL as requested in its investigation.
    Even while DOE fully embraces the objectives of the Board's 
specific recommendations, it is important to note that DOE does not 
agree with all of the findings included in the Board's report.
    Specifically, the conclusions drawn by the Board about the 
overall quality of the safety culture at WTP differ significantly 
from the HSS findings and are not consistent with the safety culture 
data and field performance experience at WTP. We are concerned that 
your letter includes the October 2010 HSS review in the list of 
``other examples of a failed safety culture.'' The Department 
disagrees with this categorization and believes the HSS report 
provided an accurate representation of the nuclear safety culture--
and existing gaps--at the WTP.
    As discussed above, the HSS review found areas in need of 
immediate improvement; however, most WTP personnel did not express a 
loss of confidence in management support, a sense of a chilled 
environment, or a fear of retaliation.
    Additionally, in its report, the Board alleges that DOE and 
contractor management suppressed technical dissent on the project. 
The Department rightly takes any such claim very seriously. Based on 
an investigation by the DOE Office of the General Counsel, however, 
we do not necessarily agree with some of the specific details the 
Board provided. For example, our investigation found no evidence 
that DOE or its contractors were aware of and sought to suppress a 
technical report.
    Moreover, the Board's findings appear to rely on a number of 
accounts describing the actions and behaviors of both contractor and 
DOE personnel that we believe may have been misunderstood by the 
Board. The Department feels compelled to address these for the 
public record and in fairness to its personnel.
    To do so effectively, on June 22, 2011, DOE requested the 
Board's full investigative record, including transcripts, interview 
notes, and exhibits. Per your conversation with Deputy Secretary 
Daniel Poneman today, we look forward to continuing to engage with 
you to obtain additional details from the Board's investigation. The 
Board's investigative record or other supporting information will 
allow us to provide further details on specific discrepancies 
between our findings and the Board's and will be of great use in 
defining the structure and scope of follow-on safety culture 
improvement initiatives and actions.
    We look forward to working with the Board and its staff as we 
continue to strive towards excellence. It is important for the both 
the Department and the Board to function collaboratively and openly 
as we work to further improve the safety culture at DOE. To 
facilitate that objective and in recognition of the significance of 
these concerns, I recommend we jointly charter a third-party review, 
such as the National Academy of Science, to evaluate how we can 
strengthen our relationship and most effectively work together to 
achieve our shared objective of helping DOE to safely perform its 
    As additional information becomes available from our actions 
addressing this Recommendation, we will make it available to you. We 
hope to continue a meaningful, regular, and open dialogue on this 
and all safety matters.
    I am designating Mr. Daniel Poneman, the Deputy Secretary of 
Energy, as the Responsible Manager for this recommendation. He will 
be charged with reporting to me regularly on the specific additional 
steps we are taking to improve the safety culture at WTP and all of 
our facilities.


Steven Chu.

D. Poneman, S-2
M. Campagnone, HS-1.1
[FR Doc. 2011-18084 Filed 7-18-11; 8:45 am]