Safety Culture

We work safely or not at all

The safety of a nuclear power plant is determined in part by the safety culture in the organisation. People’s behaviour affects efforts to minimise safety risks. Safeguards in place both inside and outside the organisation allow work to be performed safely, and encourage a process of constant improvement. There is internal and external supervision, and within the organisation people are accustomed to giving feedback to each other about the importance of working safely.
Safety principles at the nuclear plant are based on the IAEA Safety Standards, whose main priority is to protect the population and the environment from nuclear risks. The standards apply to the installations, use of materials and processes. All precautions are designed to prevent any accidents and incidents that give rise to an uncontrollable situation, escalation of an existing situation or to radioactive emissions.
Safety has been systematised at Borssele:
− Working methods comply with international standards.
− These rules have been incorporated into procedures.
− Practical training focuses on behaviour and compliance with the rules.
− Best practice at other nuclear plants is examined, and knowledge is shared.
− There is workplace supervision (both internal and external) of compliance and performance. National regulators and international audit teams regularly visit Borssele.
− These inspections are not without consequences. Rules and procedures are improved if new information becomes available or shortcomings are identified.
In addition, the ‘soft’ side of safety culture has been made as tangible as possible in the form of ‘Management Expectations’, which set out in a clear and accessible way what is expected of everyone. Any member of staff may be called to account for their nuclear safety responsibilities. Training and coaching are provided, both individually and in groups.

Continuous improvement at Borssele nuclear power plant

The process at a nuclear power plant can have a major impact if it is not properly controlled. EPZ is fully aware of this fact, and of the special responsibility it entails: to guarantee the best possible protection for people and the environment from the potentially damaging effects of nuclear fission. This responsibility is encapsulated in the concept of nuclear safety.
Risk and safety
The terms ‘risk’ and ‘safety’ lie at the core of our safety culture. At a nuclear power plant, risk comes in the form of the chance of dying or falling ill due to exposure to radiation. We seek to constantly reduce this risk by continually reducing the chances of exposure to radiation.
The industry, the government and scientists all make huge efforts to achieve this, using a whole range of measures: legal, technical, infrastructural and behavioural. The driving force behind this is risk tolerance (how much risk do we want to accept?) and risk perception (how do we view the risks, or how do we perceive safety?). These are dynamic factors, subject to constant change.
For an example of changes in risk tolerance, we need look no further than road safety. Major risks that were regarded as normal in the past are now no longer acceptable. In 1972 there were 3000 road deaths a year. Now there are around 650, even though there is much more traffic on our roads. Reduced risk tolerance has been the driving force behind measures that continually reduce risk.
Just like on our roads, risk tolerance in respect of the nuclear industry has steadily declined continually. This has prompted us to continually improve safety at our nuclear plant. Over the years, society has come to regard safety associated with nuclear plants differently. The need for measures to reduce risk is driven not only by the potential number of victims, but also by the impact on society as a whole. An accident at a nuclear plant may not disrupt society, or lead to unacceptable economic and environmental impacts.
Technological progress has had a positive impact on safety. Advanced sensors and data communication have made road traffic safer. Things like seatbelts, airbags, movement sensors, design changes, GPS and other forms of communication have improved road safety over the past few decades. Because our risk perception has also changed, we no longer feel safe in a car built in the 1960s that does not have these features. In the same way, the safety of the nuclear plant has grown as the public interest in reducing risk has grown.

Continuous safety improvements

Under pressure from growing safety awareness, technological advances and experience have been fed back into the nuclear plant for decades, reducing the risks step by step. Safety is never ‘finished’, and can always improve. At EPZ we call this ‘continuous improvement’. The result of this process can be seen in the development of the EPZ organisation and the layout of Borssele nuclear power plant. Safety has increased at all levels. The organisation has grown from approximately 130 staff in 1973 to some 350 now. Many of these extra employees work on safety at the plant: more analysts, more specialist technical support, more firefighters, larger operational teams etc. All these staff have to meet much stricter training and qualification requirements than in the 1970s.
The layout of the plant has also changed radically over the decades, with the introduction of redundant systems, new barriers and safety systems. If one safety system fails, an extra system will take over.
Thanks to all the physical and organisational measures, the chances of a nuclear incident that impacts on people and the environment have been reduced by about a thousand times over the past 40 years.

Authority for Nuclear Safety and Radiological Protection (ANVS)
The ANVS monitors whether nuclear safety and radiological protection in the Netherlands comply with the highest standards, establishing rules, issuing licences, ensuring they are complied with and taking enforcement measures when necessary. The establishment of the ANVS in 2015 pooled all the expertise needed to perform these tasks. The ANVS reports to the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, who reports to parliament every year. Under normal operations, an ANVS inspector is present two days a week on average for monitoring purposes. During ‘downtime’, an inspector will be present every day. The ANVS generally monitors on site, and checks the work being done at the plant. It verifies that licences are being complied with, whether technical specifications and procedures are correct, and whether any alterations being made to the plant are permitted. Alongside this technical work, the ANVS also monitors organisational structures and processes, safety management, human behaviour, improvement management and safety culture. The ANVS also closely monitors all deliveries and removal of radioactive substances.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
International supervision of the nuclear plant is the responsibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has a membership of 136 countries. This autonomous organisation, part of the United Nations, is tasked with ensuring that nuclear energy is used safely and for peaceful purposes. The agency has the right to inspect the nuclear plants of its member states. The ANVS can also invite the IAEA to conduct an inspection or give a second opinion.
World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO)
The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) in Paris is the international ‘industry association’ for nuclear power plant operators which ensures that safety in the sector is constantly improved. All nuclear power plants in the world are members of the WANO.
In peer reviews, experts from nuclear plants all over the world get to inspect each others’ plants. The aim is to learn from each other through assessment. Staff at EPZ are encouraged to take part in WANO missions themselves. They regularly visit other nuclear plants as part of a peer review team. The experts base their assessment largely on their own observations in the plant and on interviews with staff. They recommend possible improvements. A peer review is an internal matter. The team leader reports the final conclusion to the management of the plant in question. After two years, a follow-up review assesses whether action has been taken on the points for improvement.
A list of all WANO missions can be found on

Ten-yearly Safety Evaluations (10EVAs)

One of the obligations stipulated in Borssele’s Nuclear Energy Act licence is for a safety evaluation to be performed every ten years. This is common practice internationally. Once every ten years, the nuclear plant is comprehensively screened and assessed against the state of the art in safety and radiological protection. Borssele has undergone four 10EVAs in its lifetime: in 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2013. After evaluation and decision-making, each 10EVA is followed up by a modification project, designed to ensure that the plant continues to meet high national and international standards.
The trend revealed by the four 10EVAs conducted so far is that the emphasis is shifting from hardware improvements to organisational improvements. Each 10EVA makes the plant safer, so Borssele is now much safer than when it was first commissioned in 1973.
A 10EVA takes the form of a self-evaluation that is subsequently assessed by the ANVS, which may stipulate further questions for the company to address. The assessment is conducted on the basis of current (and pending) regulations and the best available technology or organisational insights. The findings are translated into potential improvements which are assessed in terms of their relevance and practicability.
Once the government and the EPZ management have reached agreement on the improvements, a modification project is launched. The most radical modification project carried out to date was that in 1997, when the nuclear plant was modernised and fitted with extra safety devices to such an extent that each subsequent hardware improvement will be less radical than the previous one. It is in terms of human performance that the most gains can now be made.

International knowledge sharing

The international nuclear community is highly focused on sharing knowledge. The philosophy is to learn as much as possible from the experience of others. Operators share details of best practice, and of technical faults and incidents. News services play an important role in this process, and large numbers of nuclear experts attend international conferences in their field.
EPZ participates in all initiatives. Well-known organisations like the IAEA, WANO and European Commission also play a key role in gathering and providing access to knowledge and experience.
The EPZ organisation analyses this collective operating experience and assesses whether it is useful for its own operations. If, for example, an earthquake occurs in Japan, Japanese nuclear plants will provide an account of their experiences as quickly as possible. Borssele will then assess the impact on local nuclear plants and draw any lessons for its own situation.

INES notifications

Since 1990 the nuclear industry has been using the INES scale for reporting nuclear and radiological incidents at nuclear plants, and transport incidents or incidents with radioactive material in hospitals and other organisations. Just as the Richter scale is used to categorise earthquakes, the INES scale is used internationally to indicate the severity of disruptions at nuclear plants. There are seven levels on the INES scale, one to seven. Anything below that is categorised as INES=0, and has no safety significance.
INES ratings
The rating 0 is reserved for defects with no safety significance. INES ratings 1, 2 and 3 are referred to as incidents, which have no impact on staff or the surrounding area. At level 4, safety risks can occur within the plant, because of a release of radioactive substances within a building, for example. From level 5, an accident can have consequences for the immediate surroundings of the plant; 7 denotes a major accident whereby high levels of radioactive substances are released into the environment. Fukushima and Chernobyl were rated 7 on the INES scale.
Common technical faults
Typical faults that commonly occur are defects in the back-up safety systems that come to light during regular testing. Disruptions to operations causing energy generation to be halted for a short time can also occur. Finally, procedural failures may also be reported.
Responsibilities of EPZ and the authorities
EPZ investigates every fault to determine the cause, and how serious it is. On the basis of its own investigation, EPZ proposes the INES rating, and publishes all preliminary INES notifications.
It is however the authorities (the Authority for Nuclear Safety and Radiological Protection) that makes the final INES assessment on the basis of the EPZ report and its own investigation. The ANVS also ensures that improvements are carried out in response to disruptions. It reports every year to parliament on disruptions that have occurred at all nuclear plants in the Netherlands.
What happens after an INES notification?
At EPZ all work processes focus on preventing unsafe situations. The company records and analyses all operational experiences, including all disruptions and incidents, in accordance with international standards. Staff are also encouraged to report incidents internally, even if they seem insignificant. The purpose of this systematic, comprehensive approach is clear: to continuously improve safety, and to learn from mistakes.
EPZ is a member of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), an organisation to which almost all nuclear plants in the world are affiliated. WANO shares and analyses information about INES notifications and other irregularities. EPZ receives hundreds of reports each year which it analyses for their relevance to Borssele. EPZ also regularly sends reports to the global network itself.
Most notifications at Borssele are INES=0, with no significance for safety. The most serious incident (INES=2) was reported in 1996, when a valve was accidentally left open and went unnoticed for a while. Measures were taken to rule out the possibility of this ever happening again. The general trend at Borssele is downward: the number and severity of INES notifications fluctuates, but is on the decline. All INES notifications can be found on

Commission for Industrial Safety

The Commission for Industrial Safety is an internal committee of experts from EPZ departments who advise the company’s management team on health and safety in the workplace. Their remit concerns traditional health and safety; radiological protection is the responsibility of the Reactor Safety Committee (RBVC). Health and safety is part of the nuclear plant’s general safety culture, given the direct link between safe working practices and nuclear safety.
Checks are performed on the workfloor to ensure that staff are using personal protection equipment, and there are regular awareness-raising campaigns. During outages, companies and individual members of staff are given financial incentives to work safely. This helps EPZ keep the number of accidents due to human error to a minimum.

Staff health and safety qualifications

Both internal and external staff at EPZ must be qualified to work at the nuclear plant. EPZ rigorously ensures that contractors also have the required qualifications: a valid VCA workplace health and safety certificate or another prescribed professional qualification.

Competence management

Competence management, launched in 2008, began to take concrete form in 2009, when a system was introduced to assess all 300 staff at the nuclear plant on the basis of 200 competences. Most staff are required to have between five and 15 qualifications. It was found that an average of 91% of EPZ staff meet all the requirements of their job. Nine per cent are receiving extra training in certain aspects, due to the fact that they joined the company only recently, have changed jobs or their certificates have expired.


Staff at the nuclear plant spend an average of 18 days a year on training. EPZ is keen to train its staff, and to ensure they develop knowledge and personal skills, to meet not only today’s challenges but also those of the future. Each year several dozen staff (new to the company or to their current job) take practical training to acquire the necessary knowledge of the plant. Ten or more ‘refresher courses’ are also held every year, to brush up existing knowledge and teach staff about new issues. EPZ also uses external trainers for refresher courses (from Tractebel, the Nuclear Research & Consultancy Group and Reactor Institute Delft).
Shift operators at the nuclear plant train twice a year at the simulator in Essen, Germany. The facility simulates all potential situations that might occur in a nuclear plant. Simulator training is mandatory under the plant’s licence conditions. Besides staff’s knowledge of their own field and of procedures, other qualities are also tested. Training includes behavioural competences like analytical skills in stressful situations, teamwork and communication skills.
During simulator training shift operators hone their knowledge of commissioning and decommissioning procedures. This is normally only needed during fuel reshuffles, so only one shift a year gets the opportunity to put their skills into practice. This is not enough to develop a routine, so shift operators also rehearse all kinds of major and minor disruptions to operations and serious accident scenarios. Simulator training focuses particularly on procedures and operational discipline.
Watch staff training in this video:

Continuous improvement in human performance

It is not only technology itself that determines safety. The way people use technology also has safety implications. EPZ is keen to establish whether it can make further progress in safety in terms of human performance. The main areas it is concentrating on at the moment are as follows:
Strengthening servant leadership based not on hierarchy and power, but on awareness-raising and staff development. A servant leader creates a safe learning environment in which staff can grow and function at their best. The associated human performance programme allows staff to perform effectively, ensuring the organisation achieves better results. This brings staff performance more into line with management expectations.
And also:
– Ensuring that the high standards for the maintenance of critical systems are also applied to non-critical systems.
– Ensuring that temporary modifications to the plant are properly check for safety.
– Increasing the speed and efficiency of analysis of anomalous events at the plant.
– Strengthening line managers’ sense of responsibility for the radiological safety of their staff.
– Further improvements to staff preparations for radiological safety in the event of an accident, and further improvement of accident procedure.

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