Yankee gets high marks for safety

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BRATTLEBORO -- Of the 31 nuclear power plants assessed for their safety culture in 2009, Vermont Yankee ranked in the top 25 percent, according to a survey of employees conducted by Synergy Consulting Services Corporation.

Yankee was in the top 25 percent of its nuclear safety culture, its safety conscious workplace environment and its employee concerns program.

In addition, Yankee had no areas needing attention or needing improvement in its safety culture, its work environment or its employees' confidence in supervisors and management, according to the survey report.

"Yankee generally had better results than other Entergy plants in the Northeast," said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC.

Synergy's assessment consisted of a confidential survey of power plant employees using questionnaire and interviews.

The results of the survey were used to determine "cultural values, behaviors and practices that have shaped and self-reinforced (an) organization's capabilities, infrastructure and environment for both nuclear safety and general business performance," according to its Web site.

The survey was also used to: Determine employee attitudes and perceptions of the effectiveness of a plant's Employee Concerns Program; general cultural, environmental or programmatic areas that may have a relationship with a plant's nuclear safety culture; leadership, management and supervisory characteristics that have a bearing on culture and performance; and opportunities for further organizational development.

Jim Steets, a spokesman for Entergy's Northeast operations, said the results didn't surprise him.

"We have a very strong safety culture across the fleet," he said.

Just the same, the survey provides information about where the safety culture can be improved, said Steets.

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One reason why Entergy's safety culture is so effective, said Steets, is the fact that the 11 power plants in its nuclear fleet share information, lessons learned and even personnel.

Entergy employees who have worked at a number of different plants in its fleet "bring in good ideas and they bring back good ideas," said Steets. "That's one of the advantages of being a power plant in an organization that owns many power plants.

And, he added, "A lot of good has been brought back from Vermont Yankee. That plant is run very well. Yankee is a real good performer for Entergy."

But the survey results don't mean Entergy is content to rest on its laurels, said Steets.

"The status quo never works," he said. "If you don't continually improve, you go backwards."

Vermont Yankee had the highest response rate -- 85 percent -- of all of Entergy's 11 nuclear power plants, according to statements made during a teleconference between Entergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Entergy's fleetwide response rate averaged 74.8 percent.

The NRC doesn't solely rely on the survey results in its own evaluation of a power plant's safety culture, said Sheehan.

The NRC's Reactor Oversight Process has its own baseline that is used to determine a safety culture, he said.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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