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Tue Mar 12, 2013, 10:39 AM

Toxic management erodes safety at ‘world’s safest’ nuclear plant

Toxic management erodes safety at ‘world’s safest’ nuclear plant
Echoes of Fukushima at Exelon’s flagship Byron Station in Illinois

BY DREUX RICHARD
SPECIAL TO THE JAPAN TIMES
MAR 11, 2013

On Jan. 30, 2012, Byron Nuclear Generating Station lost operability to all of its safety-related equipment. At the time, Jim Hazen was the nuclear station operator responsible for the affected reactor, one of two at the Exelon-owned nuclear plant in Byron, Illinois. NSOs drive nuclear reactors like pilots fly jetliners — it’s mostly autopilot, except when something goes wrong. Hazen surveyed the control room’s instruments and advised taking actions that would trigger the plant’s diesel generators, switching the plant to backup power. According to multiple sources familiar with the incident’s details, including at least one who was directly involved, this was clearly the proper action to take.

But shift manager Ed Bendis rejected that advice. Hazen repeated it. Sources claim he repeated it several times. Bendis didn’t relent, and the reactor went without safety equipment for eight minutes, an eternity in fission time.

“For eight minutes, you’ve raised your middle finger to the meltdown gods,” one reactor operator said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If anything else happened in that window — and it’s a safe bet one problem causes another — you’re screwed.”

...In the aftermath of the incident, the technical details didn’t bother the plant’s reactor operators — it had been an oddball event. The human element, however, was troubling. Following Hazen’s advice would have disconnected the reactor from its regular offsite power supply. In a statistics-obsessed nuclear industry where the “indicator” — a data point triggered by certain adverse conditions — is king and the technical classification of an incident can ruin a manager’s career, nobody likes to have a “loss of offsite power” incident happen on their watch. Least of all Ed Bendis, who had been exposed to some of the worst coercion dished out by Dave Hoots, who held a number of senior leadership positions at Byron through 2009 and is now Exelon’s chief of internal affairs. A wide range of Byron employees claim that, during his tenure at Byron, Hoots established himself as an ascendant manager by smashing operator morale — especially when recalcitrant operators insisted on prioritizing standards over scheduling. “Why would I ever restore morale?” he once reportedly asked a reactor operator. “You work better afraid.”

During the Jan. 30 incident...


http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/03/11/world/toxic-management-erodes-safety-at-worlds-safest-nuclear-plant/#.UT7G5Y4yHdl

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