Turnover, flawed exams led to Plant Vogtle reactor licensee failures

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The loss of experienced training staff and poorly prepared licensing tests contributed to an unusually high failure rate last year among Plant Vogtle’s 2011 class of reactor operators, according to company officials.

“We see this as an isolated case,” said Tom Tynan, Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle vice president, who briefed U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staffers on the situation during a Wednesday meeting in Atlanta.

Ten new operators were tested last April, but only three passed and received licenses, according to NRC records. The candidates had undergone two years of training to operate the plant’s existing Units 1 and 2.

Tynan said Southern Nuclear’s root cause investigation identified turnover among the most experienced exam development professionals as a leading cause.

“Management underestimated these losses and did not adequately compensate for this loss of training experience,” he said, in a meeting made accessible to The Augusta Chronicle by teleconference. “Retirees were replaced with new personnel, but the experience level was not the same.”

The absence of experienced exam developers, he said, led to the development of sub-standard exams.

“What happened was, we submitted exams to NRC that were below standards, and when we got that exam back from NRC, it needed considerable work to bring it up to standards,” he said.

By the time the exams were corrected, there was only a short time before the applicants’ test date, and “a decision was made by management not to revalidate the exam and to administer the exam to students at that time.”

Although most of them failed, the problem involved the tests and not the prospective operators. “The students were well prepared,” he said.

The company has since implemented a series of corrective actions, including recruitment of more experienced personnel and frequent program reviews by certified examiners and industry experts to assure that all future exams meet or exceed insustry standards.

The 2012 class of prospective licensees, he added, will begin their operating tests Monday, with final written exams tentatively scheduled for April 20.

That class has 22 applicants, including six of the seven who failed the 2011 exam.

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Techfan 03/22/12 - 01:57 am


nothin2show4it 03/22/12 - 05:12 am
I'm not sure what disturbs me

I'm not sure what disturbs me more; 7 out of 10 failed or that the current staff and so incompetent that they created an environment for failure. It almost sounds like the three stooges are in charge of operator training.

REDRIDER 03/22/12 - 07:37 am
Homer Simpson up for the job.

Homer Simpson up for the job.

IndianaJones 03/22/12 - 11:15 am
Unless you have been there to

Unless you have been there to take the tests, are you qualified to comment on the test outcomes?

These exams are not just a simple multiple guess test with clear choices (i.e. A car goes 200 miles and uses 10 gallons...the MPG is: a. 5 b. 10, c. 20, d. 25)

I can't comment on the applicants as I do not personally know them.

If the exams don't match the work, then they have to re-work the exams. They also must re-work the curriculum and validate it.

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