Safety and control area series – Management system

Safety and control areas

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is responsible for evaluating how well licensees meet regulatory requirements and expectations. We consider the performance of programs in 14 different safety and control areas (SCAs). For the next several months, we will be publishing a series detailing each SCA and its significance for the CNSC and its licensees. This feature article will focus on the management system SCA. For a general overview of all SCAs and their functional areas, visit the CNSC’s safety and control areas Web page.

What is a management system?

A management system is a framework of processes, procedures and practices that ensure that an organization can accomplish all tasks required to achieve its safety objectives and foster a strong and healthy safety culture. This SCA integrates personnel, equipment, organizational culture and documented policies and processes in order to continuously monitor its performance against these objectives.

The management system SCA acts as a regulatory guide supported by internal expertise in quality assurance, quality management and management systems. These supporting departments integrate all aspects of management to guarantee that licensee requirements for safety are established and applied coherently with other requirements. This SCA is continually assessed in licensing and compliance activities during all lifecycle phases and within all other SCAs.

The evolution of management system SCAs

Worldwide, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards for the quality assurance of safety systems and activities have gradually progressed into management system standards that account for an array of requirements: health, safety, quality environment and security. Safety, of course, remains its most important consideration. In keeping with international best practices, the CNSC modified its regulatory framework to progress from having a quality assurance requirement for licensed activities to a broader set of management system requirements.

Safety remains the priority in management systems

The standard CSA N286, Management System Requirements for Nuclear Facilities also embodies this evolution and holds safety as the primary deliverable, as the first principle stipulates “Safety is the paramount consideration guiding decisions and actions”. This is a mantra reflected in the CNSC’s Class I and uranium mines and mills regulations and licence conditions. This standard is applied to all lifecycle phases of a nuclear facility, from design and procurement to construction, commissioning, operation, and decommissioning.

Management system SCA response during nuclear events

Management systems and licensee staff’s adherence to them have been contributing factors in some high-profile nuclear events. Here are some examples in which insufficient SCA responses led to institutional mishaps and failures in the nuclear industry

  • Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station’s Unit 2 pressurized water reactor underwent a loss of coolant and partial core meltdown in 1979; this was in part a result of ineffective processes for non-routine or infrequently performed operations to identify and effectively correct problems.
  • Ohio’s Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station had a near-miss event that led to loss of feedwater in 1985 and severe boric acid corrosion of a reactor head in 2002 that forced a 24-month outage; the problem-resolution process was ineffective.
  • Ukraine’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant ’s graphite moderated pressure tube type reactor had steam explosions in 1986 resulting from a series of unsafe operator actions; these were linked to poor or missing management system processes and procedures, as well as a lack of safety culture.
  • Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant underwent the meltdown of three nuclear reactors triggered by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011; The Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) senior management admitted that they had not maintained safety as a priority in their decisions and actions.

The CNSC is a leader in aligning its expectations for licensees with international best practices for management systems that hold safety as a priority in all decisions and actions.

Stay tuned for the next article in our SCA series!