What’s in a word? If words are the currency of communication, then common language is important for smooth interaction without misunderstanding or conflict. Think of the many clichés that make this point: “On the same wavelength,” “speaking the same lingo,” or “lost in translation.”
The NRC and the nuclear power industry have taken a significant step toward improving our communication by adopting common language in the important area of safety culture. Safety culture – the idea that safety comes first – is a priority for the NRC, as expressed in our safety culture policy statement revised in 2011. Over the past few years, NRC staff members have met with industry representatives and other interested parties to agree on common language to express safety culture. To use another cliché, we’re now on the same page.
Now it’s time to put that common verbiage into action. As of January 1, the NRC is integrating this common safety culture language into our Reactor Oversight Process, or ROP. The ROP is the agency’s method of assessing a nuclear power plant’s performance by identifying and responding to problems in seven cornerstones of safety, as well as cross-cutting aspects that impact more than one cornerstone.
Using common safety culture language in the ROP will promote clearer and more consistent communication between the NRC and industry about these cross-cutting aspects.
These are not substantial changes to the ROP. The goals, processes and procedures of our regulatory oversight of nuclear plants have not changed. The changes simply incorporate the common-language terminology into the ROP and do not affect the process for applying cross-cutting aspects to findings or evaluating cross-cutting themes.
For example, “The licensee defines and effectively communicates expectations regarding procedural compliance and personnel follow procedures,” has been replaced with “Individuals follow processes, procedures, and work instructions.”
Also, “The licensee takes appropriate corrective actions to address safety issues and adverse trends in a timely manner, commensurate with their safety significance and complexity” is now rendered as “The organization takes effective correction actions to address issues in a timely manner commensurate with their safety significance.” Simple, straightforward, and less bureaucratic, even if we couldn’t get “commensurate” out of there altogether.
These and other changes implementing the common safety culture language are spelled out in a revised Inspection Manual Chapter 0310. Inspection reports for 2013 as well as the end-of-cycle reports to be issued in March will still use the previous language and guidance. The new language will be for inspections conducted in 2014 and in the mid-cycle assessments to be issued in September.