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Frequently Asked Questions

General Project Information

Safety & Quality


General Project Information

What does it mean to have a high-quality product?

On the WTP Project, quality is a common topic. We need to produce a high-quality Vit Plant. But what does high-quality really mean on a unique project like this?

One major component of our quality deals with requirements. Requirements come from multiple sources including our contract with the Department of Energy, our authorization basis documents, codes and standards.

For each product, the correct requirements must first be identified and then the design must meet them. Those requirements must then be communicated to all our suppliers and their sub-suppliers and included in procurement documents for the each product we need.

The resulting products will be verified by a WTP Supplier Quality representative upon receipt, stored, maintained, installed and, eventually, started up properly.

The project records must show that the correct requirements were used to design, procure, construct and commission each component of our plant. Records must show that procedures were followed in all phases of the plant’s development. Our records will play a major role in receiving approval to start commissioning. If the paperwork is not right, the plant will not be allowed to run, regardless of how well it is built.


Safety & Quality

What is the difference between industrial safety and nuclear safety?

Industrial safety focuses on avoidance or containment of non-radiological hazards to workers such as heat, cold, noise, light, falls, electricity, chemicals, confined spaces and vehicular accidents. The safety of the worker is the priority.

Nuclear safety focuses on avoidance or containment of current and future radiological releases to the worker, the public and the environment. The safety of the public is the priority. Nuclear safety is established during design and construction and continues through commissioning and operations.

To be effective, both types of safety require the establishment and maintenance of a strong safety culture where managers and workers commitment to safety as the highest priority.

What is a Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture (NSQC)?

NSQC is defined as “an organization’s values and behaviors modeled by its leaders and internalized by its members, which serve to make nuclear safety and quality the overriding priorities on the project.”

It is essential for the Vit Plant to be designed and built with nuclear safety and quality at the forefront. Bechtel and the Department of Energy are committed to ensuring that future workers can work in safe, reliable facilities and that the public and environment are protected when the Vit Plant becomes operational.

I’ve heard Nuclear Safety Culture referenced before in the commercial nuclear power industry; why does the Vit Plant incorporate quality?

Nuclear Safety Culture and Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture are the same concept. The WTP Project consciously elected to include both “Safety” and “Quality” because they are both fundamental values for the project, and the words provide a continuous reminder to our employees.

Why is a strong Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture (NSQC) important to the WTP Project?

The Vit Plant is a first-of-a-kind facility that will treat 56 million gallons of radioactive waste currently stored in aging underground tanks. A legacy of national defense efforts during World War II and the Cold War, the waste, if left untreated, poses a serious threat to the Columbia River, surrounding communities and millions of residents downstream.

How is a strong Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture (NSQC) measured? How do we know if the WTP Project has it (or doesn’t have it)?

We know we have a stronger NSQC when our surveys and assessments tell us we have incremental improvement in the attitudes and behaviors of our employees and managers. The WTP Project will periodically assess the health of its NSQC through management assessments and employee surveys through independent assessments, management assessments and employee surveys.

What programs and resources are in place at the WTP Project to cultivate a strong Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture (NSQC)?

Cultivating a strong NSQC begins with our employees who regularly demonstrate the following behaviors:

  • Take ownership of safety and quality by implementing and following their personal safety and quality plans.
  • Question what does not seem right by raising concerns to their line manager in a timely manner, offering solutions and following up.
  • Identify and share improvement opportunities by engaging in dialogue with co-workers and managers, using the Lessons Learned Program and employing the PIER system when appropriate.
  • Practice procedure compliance, stopping work when it becomes unclear or impossible to follow a procedure as written and waiting until the issue is resolved before continuing.

In addition, there are currently a number of programs and resources in place that help cultivate a strong NSQC. They include the following:

  • Corrective Action Program
  • Differing Professional Opinion (DPO) process
  • Employee Concerns Program
  • Human Performance Improvement
  • Integrated Safety Management System
  • Lessons Learned Program
  • Management assessments
  • Project Issues Evaluation Report (PIER) system

What are some of the tools available to employees who have a safety or quality concern?

First and foremost, employees are strongly encouraged to raise concerns with their leads, supervisors and managers. Open communication between all project employees and managers is key to cultivating a strong Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture (NSQC). If, however, employees do not feel comfortable going to their line supervisors or managers, the following tools are available:

  • Corrective Action Program
  • Differing Professional Opinion (DPO) process
  • Employee Concerns Program
  • Project Issues Evaluation Report (PIER) system

How do you disseminate nuclear safety and quality information to your employees?

We are committed to providing our employees with the information they need to cultivate a strong Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture (NSQC). We provide regular communications to our employees in the form of all-employee emails, all-employee meetings, management videos, project newsletters, posters and meeting handouts. All of these materials are also readily accessible on our employee website, and many of them are available on our Safety Resources page.

We also recognize the value of top-down communication and are training our supervisors and managers on the importance of a strong NSQC. These supervisors and managers are held accountable for further disseminating their training to their employees until everyone has received the information.

We are committed to continuous improvement and are always looking for additional opportunities to share this critical information. We are only successful when everyone understands and adopts nuclear safety and quality in all aspects of their daily work.

How do WTP Project employees incorporate a nuclear safety and quality into their work?

Our employees incorporate a nuclear safety and quality into their daily work by regularly practicing the following behaviors:

  • Taking ownership of safety and quality by implementing and following their personalized safety and quality plans.
  • Questioning what does not seem right by raising concerns to their line manager in a timely manner, offering solutions and following up.
  • Identifying and sharing improvement opportunities by engaging in dialogue with co-workers and managers, using the Lessons Learned Program and employing the Project Issues Evaluation Report (PIER) system when appropriate.
  • Embracing and accepting procedure compliance, stopping work when it becomes unclear or impossible to follow a procedure as written and waiting until the issue is resolved before continuing.

How do WTP Project supervisors and managers balance encouraging a questioning attitude with meeting cost and schedule deadlines?

The overriding values for the WTP Project are and always will be safety and quality, and it is our supervisors’ and managers’ first responsibility to listen to employees, raise their concerns to the appropriate levels, provide them with feedback regarding the action taken or the reason actions were not taken, and thank employees for raising their concerns.

These last actions, providing feedback and thanking employees, are the most important, as they encourage employees to continue to feel empowered to bring forward issues or concerns, which is a key component of a strong Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture (NSQC).

Also, a healthy NSQC contributes to meeting cost and schedule deadlines.

The media has reported that there are a number of safety concerns involving the design of the Vit Plant; how do I know it is being built safely and with quality?

We are confident in the safety and quality of the Vit Plant. Hundreds of experts from government, industry and academia confirm that the plant’s current design will safely treat the vast majority of the waste. More than $600 million and 11 years have been committed to getting the science right; we continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the completed Vit Plant will safely and efficiently make glass.

There have been recent media reports that question the strength of the WTP Project’s Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture (NSQC); how do you respond?

Numerous assessments evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the WTP Project’s NSQC have been performed by independent external and internal groups. Results of these assessments, while identifying some areas for improvement, have consistently found that the majority of WTP Project employees feel comfortable that they can raise issues and that they are aware of and frequently use the many avenues made available to voice issues of any type.

Our systems and processes for soliciting issues have enabled our employees to bring to our attention nearly 10,000 issues, questions, opportunities, or concerns in five years alone. All of these have been carefully evaluated in an objective and transparent manner.

We understand that project objectives, including cost and schedule, are only achieved when a transparent culture underpins the project. We thank our employees for their willingness to raise issues and for being an active partner in ensuring project safety. Safety has and always will be paramount to the success of the WTP Project.