WANO CEO / ‘I Don’t See Any Other Industry Which Is So Willing To Do This’

By David Dalton
19 January 2022

Sharing information, good or bad, is what sets the nuclear sector apart as it becomes a key element in the global drive towards net zero, says head of safety group
‘I Don’t See Any Other Industry Which Is So Willing To Do This’
Ingemar Engkvist: ‘It’s different to other leadership… it’s very specific to the nuclear industry.’ Courtesy WANO.
The World Association of Nuclear Operators is moving to an operating model that it says will address specific gaps to excellence as the nuclear power sector looks to push ahead with new projects and become an important tool in addressing climate change.

The association’s chief executive officer, Ingemar Engkvist, said changes at the non-profit safety organisation, whose members include nuclear plant owners and operators around the world, arise from a 2019 meeting of the governing board where members decided to launch an initiative for “worldwide performance improvement”.

The reason for the changes is a growing understanding among WANO members that better performance will help shape the future and make nuclear a key element of the global move towards net zero.

Mr Engkvist said the industry wants to “meet business objectives” with regards to maintaining high performance, extending operating lifetimes at some plants and creating a basis for new construction. “We [WANO] are not drivers of expanding the nuclear industry, but we are there to help,” said Mr Engkvist, who took the London-based job in January 2020 after a period in the association’s Paris office. “WANO will become much more efficient when gaps to excellence are identified, to help members close them much more quickly than in the past. That’s the aim. We want to have an international view of every station’s performance.”

Mr Engkvist said performance improvement is “the best business opportunity” for the industry – not only a financial opportunity, but also a way of improving support for nuclear and for each nation’s ambitions to address climate change. “The only way to be credible is to have our stations perform at the highest level. The members are pushing us. We are not pushing them,” he said.

As part of its performance initiative, WANO has published a public paper on leadership effectiveness. The paper says that after 30 years of collaboration and benchmarking throughout the industry, the programmes and processes used around the world in the nuclear sector are very similar. The difference in performance, more than ever, comes from leadership.

For the paper, a team of executives and plant managers from all four WANO regional centres (Paris, Atlanta, Tokyo and Moscow) and the London office, set out to define a concise set of attributes. These are detailed under a number of broad categories including establishing a vision of excellence that prioritises nuclear safety, creating an environment of teamwork, trust and cooperation, and building leadership capacity.

The paper is not intended to be a “checklist”, but WANO expects that these attributes “be present and evident in the daily activities, behaviours, and outcomes of your organisation”.

The leadership effectiveness programme has involved collaboration between chief nuclear officers from across the globe, meeting as a working group. WANO says the paper is being applied not as a series of boxes that need to be ticked, but in a way that means operators really understand what is behind it.

According to Mr Engkvist, nuclear stations can sometimes struggle with closing gaps and the reason is not that the gaps are very complicated, but because effective leadership at all levels needs to be developed. “It’s different to other leadership,” Mr Engkvist said. “It’s very specific to the nuclear industry.

“There is a very, very small likelihood of something serious happening [at a nuclear station], but potentially large consequences if something does happen. That informs the kind of leadership we need in the industry. That’s why this initiative is important and appreciated.”

As part of WANO’s transition the organisation aims to have a much more detailed view of a nuclear station’s performance by adding insights and not just looking at numbers. The association is collecting information more or less quarterly and giving members its view.

“We are not saying it is a perfect view or the only accurate view, but it is an independent view,” Mr Engkvist said. “If I had had this view when I was working at plants and in corporate, my decision-making would have been very different because the worst thing that can happen is that a plant starts comparing itself to itself. It is benchmarking against the best in the industry and all our findings will be regularly discussed with WANO members.”

We are not saying it is a perfect view or the only accurate view, but it is an independent view

Changes aside, WANO remains an organisation with peer reviews at its heart, including pre-startup reviews, corporate reviews and follow-up reviews. Post Fukushima, WANO has moved towards a four-year frequency for peer reviews, a change from six years, with a follow-up at the two-year point. It is also working with other organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the US-based Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and the Japan Nuclear Safety Institute (JANSI) to determine what other reviews can be judged as equivalent to WANO peer reviews.

Covid-19 has dominated the past two years and at WANO has impacted its ability to carry out reviews at nuclear stations. Yet many planned missions have been completed, partly because members have gone out of their way to help with logistics. Covid travel restrictions and the need to self-isolate on arrival and return have led to “some difficulties”, Mr Engkvist said, but in using WANO’s Paris centre as an example, we carried out 52 physical missions in 2021 in that region and only a couple had to be rescheduled.

China has posed problems because of government-imposed travel restrictions, but WANO now has an office in Shanghai and Chinese staff members were able to travel to Chinese nuclear stations to support the regional centres that carried out the missions.

WANO is also focused on a lineup of new entrants to the nuclear sector – countries that have never had nuclear power. Courtesy Enec.

WANO set up an online resource centre containing information on member utilities’ and plants’ planning, preparations and response strategies to the pandemic. It includes details on how utilities and plants worldwide are dealing with key issues related to the crisis. Documents available cover a variety of topics such as dealing with outages, risk management, sequestering staff, cleaning and disinfection practices, use of thermographic cameras and shift planning.

Medical offers from nuclear plants were brought together to discuss best practises and what they could do to limit the spread of the virus or take care of staff. The medical forum has continued with bi-weekly meetings since spring 2020.

WANO is also focused on what Mr Engkvist called “a lineup of new entrants” to the nuclear sector – countries that have never had nuclear power – and those building new units in existing nuclear countries. WANO collects experiences from new build projects – working with the IAEA and the US Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) – and provides specific support on the journey to commissioning a new plant. Its Roadmap to Operational Readiness sets out a timeline for new-build.

“Those nations that build and commission new units – those projects are becoming more and more successful,” Mr Engkvist said. “We know this from our pre-startup reviews which we carry about before they load fuel or go critical.

“Gaps that we found some years ago do not exist any more. They have learned how to manage these projects successfully.”

What sets the nuclear industry apart, according to WANO, is its willingness to share information, good or bad.

This was the sector’s big message at Cop26, held at the end of 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. The nuclear industry is one that is willing to share experiences with organisations that other industries would label competitors. The United Arab Emirates, which is building four nuclear units at Barakah, is a good example of this. Turkey, which is hoping to have four plants at Akkuyu, is already engaged with WANO.

“I don’t see any other industry which is so willing to do this – to put aside competition, national interest and political interest for the common good,” Mr Engkvist said.

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