Safeguards Culture

In recent years, experts on nuclear nonproliferation have been giving increasing attention to understanding the role of human beings in effective materials protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A). Issues such as the priority that government officials assign to MPC&A, mechanisms for fostering institutional memories that retain the benefits of retiring workers’ experience, and encouraging workers to take the threats of nuclear proliferation seriously in their work are examples. These studies explore the ways in which decision makers at multiple tiers of a political or organizational structure understand the threats of nuclear proliferation, and how they express that understanding through their daily decisions. Experts who study the role of culture in the management of nuclear materials have developed definitions of several types of culture, including safety culture, security culture, and safeguards culture:

  • Safety Culture: This term refers primarily to the safe operation of civilian nuclear power plants. The concept began receiving significant attention after workers’ lack of attention to safety protocols led to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident of 1986. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a robust nuclear safety culture is defined as “that assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organizations and individuals which establishes that, as an overriding priority, nuclear plant safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance.”1

1  

Ian Barraclough and Annick Carnino, “Safety Culture: Keys for Sustaining Progress,” IAEA Bulletin 40 (June 1998): 27-30, available at http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull402/safetyculture.pdf, accessed April 20, 2005.



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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary Safeguards Culture In recent years, experts on nuclear nonproliferation have been giving increasing attention to understanding the role of human beings in effective materials protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A). Issues such as the priority that government officials assign to MPC&A, mechanisms for fostering institutional memories that retain the benefits of retiring workers’ experience, and encouraging workers to take the threats of nuclear proliferation seriously in their work are examples. These studies explore the ways in which decision makers at multiple tiers of a political or organizational structure understand the threats of nuclear proliferation, and how they express that understanding through their daily decisions. Experts who study the role of culture in the management of nuclear materials have developed definitions of several types of culture, including safety culture, security culture, and safeguards culture: Safety Culture: This term refers primarily to the safe operation of civilian nuclear power plants. The concept began receiving significant attention after workers’ lack of attention to safety protocols led to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident of 1986. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a robust nuclear safety culture is defined as “that assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organizations and individuals which establishes that, as an overriding priority, nuclear plant safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance.”1 1   Ian Barraclough and Annick Carnino, “Safety Culture: Keys for Sustaining Progress,” IAEA Bulletin 40 (June 1998): 27-30, available at http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull402/safetyculture.pdf, accessed April 20, 2005.

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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary Security Culture: According to a recent report, nuclear security culture has three elements: “the degree to which all personnel, from senior managers and supervisors down to the most junior operators, are aware of and committed to widely understood security requirements and best practices; the degree to which available and affordable security technology is put to use, kept in good working condition, and improved; and the degree to which security regulations and procedures are implemented and personnel are motivated to accomplish their security-related tasks.”2 Safeguards Culture: This term encompasses the notion that a robust security culture requires the appropriate national context. One article defines it as a “pervasive, shared belief among political leaders, senior managers, and operating personnel that effective MPC&A is critically important, as manifested in decisions and actions, large and small.”3 A number of presentations at the workshop touched on issues related to safeguards culture and security culture, but three focused primarily on these themes. Lars van Dassen of the Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate manages international projects that help former Soviet Union states establish effective MPC&A systems. He began his presentation by pointing out that “human factor” issues constitute a significant portion of the challenges to effective MPC&A. Nuclear safeguards activities, for example, entail substantial amounts of time spent searching for errors. Human culture issues are also important for physical security, as demonstrated by incidents of illicit nuclear trafficking. For these and other reasons, van Dassen argued, it is of paramount importance that the nuclear work force is educated about its responsibilities in mitigating the dangers of nuclear proliferation and well trained to carry out those responsibilities effectively. Several issues must be addressed, however, in the course of creating a well-trained nuclear work force. One is that an effective legal and regulatory structure must be in place. It is difficult, however, for experts in nuclear regulation to manage the establishment of a regulatory structure in another culture. Van Dassen suggested that an incremental approach, relying on local expertise, offers the best chance of success. Another issue is that finding and keeping competent staff can be a significant challenge. Facility managers with little MPC&A experience often find it difficult to determine their own staffing needs. Further, in newly-independent states, security personnel who have gone through intensive training at the expense 2   Igor Khripunov, et al., Nuclear Security Culture: The Case of Russia. (Athens, Ga.: Center for International Trade and Security, University of Georgia, 2004), p. 9. Available online athttp://www.uga.edu/cits/documents/pdf/Security%20Culture%20Report%2020041118.pdf, accessed April 20, 2005. 3   James Doyle and Stephen Mladineo, “Viewpoint: Assessing the Development of Modern Safeguards Culture in the NIS,” The Nonproliferation Review 5 (Winter 1998): 91, available at http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/npr/vol05/52/doyle52.pdf, accessed April 20, 2005.

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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary of the nuclear facility or the donor country are often lured away by more lucrative offers from banks or other institutions. A third issue is that nuclear facilities may not have the organizational or technical infrastructure, or the required staff resources, to maintain and operate new equipment effectively in the long run. Finally, even though equipment manufacturers often provide training and education when they install new equipment, the owners of the new equipment may not have enough staff, or the necessary organizational or technical infrastructure, to maintain and operate the equipment effectively and safely throughout its normal lifespan. Van Dassen closed with a few general observations. Those entrusted with operating, maintaining, and protecting equipment and materials at nuclear facilities must be well-motivated to make responsible decisions. This is less likely with an opaque system in which management believes “the less the guards know, the better.” Finally, he pointed out that we must remember that this is not merely technology, but technology run by humans. Irene Koupriyanova of the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering began her presentation by explaining that the phrase “safety culture” was introduced by the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group in the late 1980s, when it used the phrase in its summary report about the Chernobyl accident. The phrase “human factor” was also used for the first time in reference to nuclear energy activities in that report. Koupriyanova suggested that the “human factor” in MPC&A refers to a nuclear facility operator’s physical ability to react appropriately and quickly in response to problems, and to the cultural background of the operator. She underscored the growing importance of addressing human factor issues as the scale of terrorism attacks increases, and the ramifications of those attacks expand correspondingly, across national borders. Koupriyanova explained that when many of the current Russian facilities were built in the 1950s, positions of employment in the Soviet nuclear complex were prestigious and very difficult to obtain. Because the screening of prospective employees was so rigorous, those who worked inside the nuclear complex were considered trustworthy, and the equipment and systems were designed to make the job comfortable rather than to protect against insider threats. When the Soviet system crumbled and democracy came to Russia, the level of control over employees within the nuclear complex did not increase to compensate. Culture, in Koupriyanova’s view, is a set of values and moral standards which are fundamental to an individual and to how he or she adheres to performance requirements, procedures, and facility policies. There have been no systematic studies of the cultural component of safeguards to date. Values are standards and principles that govern attitudes and behaviors. All workers in a nuclear facility must share the same values with regard to the proper operation of the facility equipment, especially upholding the basic tenet that safeguards must never be compromised. It is also important to develop preventive measures to stop or slow down workers who are intent on sabotage or nuclear terrorism.

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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary Koupriyanova pointed out that some analysts argue that critical thinking on the part of nuclear facility workers is important for effective MPC&A. She disagreed, arguing that top managers and security analysts should have the authority to think critically, but that workers should do as they are instructed and follow the rules. In her view, the key to effective MPC&A is maintaining strict discipline through coaching and training. If there is not enough control over workers, they will not report on one another, and they will only perform tasks if they agree it should be done. She noted, however, that appropriate MPC&A practice will vary from one country to another, and suggested that the international community should strive to define international standards of permissible nuclear activities, along with mechanisms to implement them, since nuclear accidents have international consequences. Koupriyanova emphasized that domestic approaches to safeguards culture may vary. Russia, for example, is democratic now but continues to be under pressure from the values and moral standards of Soviet times. Nevertheless, Russian workers must now learn to use new MPC&A equipment safely and effectively, without the old system of control in place. Koupriyanova concluded with two points: first, it is time to develop an international standard for the acceptable character of safeguards culture in a nuclear facility, and propose a mechanism to regulate it. Second, appropriate safeguards culture should be defined not only for nuclear power plants but for all nuclear facilities. Commentator Igor Khripunov of the University of Georgia (U.S.) offered some guiding principles of security culture. In his view, all staff at nuclear facilities should be able to demonstrate that they recognize their own and their facility’s vulnerability to attack or to theft of nuclear materials. Security culture also requires effective local leadership, user-friendly procedures, and workers motivated by a sense of personal performance and responsibility to constantly learn and improve. Additionally, the condition of equipment at nuclear facilities must be very good, and it must be used as it was intended. In Khripunov’s view, security culture should be defined as a set of globally-agreed standards, applied via country-specific policies. In the pursuit of a robust security culture, Khripunov suggested that the community of MPC&A experts try to define the aspects of culture that have relevance for MPC&A by focusing on observable actions. He also advocated the use of “nuclear security models” as a way of delineating specific cultures and understanding their similarities and differences. Types of societies with nuclear culture problems include transitional societies, countries with “opaque” nuclear systems as described by van Dassen, and countries who are just beginning to build their nuclear energy complexes. Khripunov espoused proactive approaches to management that focus on security policy, understand the use of authority, and clearly communicate expectations. Finally, he noted that these efforts should strive for the establishment of a young, rising “nuclear elite” of managers and policy makers.