Naval Reactors (NR): A Potential Model for Improved
Personnel Management in the Department of Energy (DOE)*
- *The article reprinted here is a previously unpublished papayer written by Steven L. Krahn, the Assistant Technical Director for Operational Safety on the Board Staff; formerly an engineer on the Naval Reactors staff.
The Naval Reactors Program, more commonly known as "NR," was started by a small group of naval officers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1946. Led by Hyman Rickover (a Captain apparently near retirement), this group was inspired by a concept: the possibility of using nuclear power to propel a submarine. Within seven years of its inception, the organization that developed out of this concept would put into operation the nations' first power reactor (the Nautilus prototype). The following four years would see three more nuclear submarines and two reactor plant prototypes operating and another seven ships and two prototypes being built. To date, more reactors have been built and safely operated by the NR program than any U. S. program; this record of achievement is remarkable by any standard. It is now a joint program of the Navy and the Department of Energy (DOE).
What are the attributes that made NR so successful? Much has been discussed and written about core NR management principles such as, attention to detail and adherence to standards and specifications. The purpose of this discussion is to examine the personnel practices used by NR, which are arguably even more central to the success of the program than the core principles mentioned above, and to reflect on their possible application to DOE.
There exists, however, a pervasive view that since there are some fundamental differences between the programs of NR and the remainder of DOE, nothing can be learned from studying the methods by which NR has achieved success -- least of all on the personnel front. As in many benchmarking efforts, it is true that there are fundamental differences between the organizations. However, experience in Total Quality Management (TQM) has shown the methods that lead to success in one organization can often be used in other organizations.
In the beginning, NR recruited the majority of its personnel from three sources: the Navy Engineering Duty Officer (EDO) community, other government technology programs and the submarine force. At that time, these selectees from other agencies and programs comprised the "cream" of the available crop. These personnel had been highly successful in their respective fields, whether in naval engineering and construction, in atomic energy laboratories or in submarines. NR attempted to "skim the cream" from those already competitive sources. The importance of this effort, to select only from the "cream of the crop," cannot be overestimated. In addition, it is believed that insight can be gained from evaluating the education, training and qualification programs at NR; programs considered by many to have made a lasting contribution to the field of nuclear safety.
It is sometimes assumed that the comprehensive personnel management system developed by NR was, somehow, readily available at the outset. This was not the case, either as regards selection or the education, training and qualification areas. The system as it exists today was built through vision, will, and persistence. In addition, it drew upon a number of already competitive Navy education programs (e.g., the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, or NROTC scholarship program). A number of obstacles had to be overcome to reach the point where it is today; maintaining such a system requires unremitting top management attention to keep further obstacles from arising and old ones from resurfacing.
The NR organization has had to weather many storms. In the process it has developed an integrated personnel management system and a number of innovative programs to assure continued success in recruitment, selection, education, training and qualification. It is believed that benefit can be gained by studying and evaluating the personnel practices within NR for potential use within DOE.
The NR Program
Three basic elements comprise the overall NR program: (1) NR Headquarters, along with its representatives in the field; (2) the ships and fleet organizations that direct ship operations; and (3) the support organizations that include the engineering laboratories, prototypes, shipyards, and plant component fabrication facilities. Personnel in the headquarters organization and the officers who staff the ships are selected by NR and educated, trained, and qualified according to NR doctrine. The third group is operated almost entirely by industrial contractors, with the exception of government-owned naval shipyards. All have NR field representatives onsite and are subject to NR reviews of their personnel selection, training, and qualification.
An analogy can be drawn between the NR organization and the DOE. All NR activities, including research, development, design, construction, testing, training, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning involve close, technically oriented interaction and dialogue between NR and its laboratories, contractors, and/or the fleet. This dialogue is clear, open, and above all, two-way. In dealing with its laboratories and contractors, NR is essentially in the role as the customer or procurer of goods and services, just as the DOE is in relation to its contractors. NR sets the standards and approves the detailed specifications for the products it procures. The laboratories and contractors provide the products, as well as technical recommendations.
NR believes that this mode of operation requires the engineering and technical management capabilities of its personnel to be comparable to the best technical personnel in the contractor organizations. If this were not the case, NR believes it would be unduly dependent on laboratory and contractor proposals and recommendations. Vital NR programs would be deprived of NR's internal ability to discern weaknesses in laboratory and contractor capabilities and, just as important, the ability to elicit or force actions to strengthen those weaknesses. There is a fundamental difference between this approach, which is characterized as "technical direction," and the approach used by DOE and its predecessor organizations often referred to as "management oversight."
Integral to the ability to provide adequate technical direction are the personnel involved in providing and receiving such direction. NR has developed a fully-integrated program to ensure that the best possible personnel are selected, educated to understand the technology that they use, and trained to operate their equipment in a safe manner. The program also ensures that the education and training are validated by a rigorous qualification program that is commensurate with the responsibilities of the position. The following discussion will provide an outline of this program and the rational behind it.
The selection process is probably the most important of the three categories mentioned above, i.e., of selection, education and training, and qualification. An ill-selected person probably cannot be educated, trained or qualified to a point where they would be suitable for the responsibilities for supervising the operation of a nuclear power plant or other nuclear facility. In the case of headquarters personnel, an ill-selected person will never be suitable for directing and guiding the technical aspects of nuclear programs. NR's selection process was -- and continues to be -- highly successful, as the results demonstrate.
When NR was formally established in early 1949, Captain Rickover initially recruited personnel to staff his program from Naval officers and civilians involved in previous nuclear power development and other technology programs. Initially due to an insufficient screening process (and, actually, inability to screen some "holdovers"), the results of this initial staffing effort were mixed and some personnel were let go. As the organization grew, Rickover (later promoted to Admiral) brought aboard personnel for additional nuclear power assignments by tapping the national laboratories and the Navy's EDOs who volunteered for the program. All of these new personnel were individually interviewed by senior NR staff and then by Rickover.
Rickover realized, early on, that his programs would expand and require more EDOs; therefore, he arranged for the establishment of a graduate program in nuclear engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to educate future EDOs for his organization. The availability of this graduate education program not only improved the capabilities of the personnel enrolled, it acted as a positive recruiting attraction.
Also, very early on, Rickover demonstrated his appreciation of the importance of the human element in nuclear power operations by personally approving all of the original officers and enlisted personnel who would staff USS Nautilus, the first nuclear powered ship. As the nuclear-powered fleet grew, however, a more formal system for selection of personnel was required. Even so, the Admiral, as head of NR, continued to play a direct personal role in the selection of each officer to staff his ships and in the selection of the officers and civilians who comprised the headquarters organization. This process continues today.
Concurrently, NR influences the selection of enlisted personnel by strengthening existing Navy instructions and standards. To be selected, enlisted personnel are required to be high school graduates, volunteers for the program, and have scored highly on both the mechanical aptitude and intelligence tests. However, insights from the officer and civilian selection process are more germane to a discussion of recruiting technical personnel for DOE. The point to be made is that the use and enhancement of existing Navy personnel selection tools for enlisted personnel indicated a willingness on NR's part to borrow methods that had been effective.
Selection for the Fleet
Initially, i.e., for Nautilus, the officers to be selected for the ships were chosen from a group of qualified, experienced submariners who were college graduates (with technical courses included in their backgrounds). Their records were generally prescreened by experienced officers in NR and then nominated by the Bureau of Naval Personnel. Their records were then sent to NR for final screening. The candidates had to have graduated in the upper half of their classes and to have demonstrated excellence in positions of increasing responsibilities.
As the number of nuclear powered ships increased, the pool of prospective candidates also had to increase. By 1960, the demand for officers had grown so large, especially with the advent of the Polaris missile program, that NR could no longer be so narrowly focused in its recruitment. The first steps in broadening the field of potential candidates were to permit the top-ranking graduates from the Naval Academy, then from NROTC, and finally the Navy's Officer Candidate School (OCS) to apply to enter the program directly upon commissioning. The success of these recruitment sources and others added later, such as the Nuclear Power Officer Candidate (NPOC) program, was so impressive that eventually recruitment of officers from other naval duties was no longer needed and was eliminated. From that point on, NR chose grow its own in-house capability. By the mid-1960s, those recruited came from colleges, universities, and the Academy. NR had developed the precept of "get ?em young and train ?em right!"
Selection for Headquarters
A similar progression can be seen in the personnel chosen to staff the NR Headquarters organization. As noted above, the first officers Rickover recruited were drawn largely from the EDO community, i.e., people who specialized in ship and ship system design, construction, and maintenance. However, this source of talent soon became inadequate and the focus shifted to top engineering and scientific graduates of the NROTC program. Officers aspiring for selection to the headquarters organization had to be in the top ten percent of their class in a school of recognized reputation. Some outstanding personnel from contractor organizations were also added to fill particular niches (e.g., reactor physics). As the program continued to grow, NR had to also look elsewhere for engineering talent for its headquarters functions as well. Two factors required this: first, the growing size of the nuclear-powered fleet (already touched upon), and second, the Navy's promotion system for EDOs.
The career path for a Navy EDO was supposed to include a number of assignments across several fields that included design, maintenance and acquisition of ships. The system demanded relatively frequent rotation of personnel among the various departments within the then Bureau of Ships (now the Naval Sea Systems Command) and the naval shipyards. Admiral Rickover believed that it was impossible to master an assignment in the nuclear field during a standard three- to four-year Navy tour. He consistently sought, and won, tour extensions for officers assigned to NR. However, this practice doomed his EDOs from the standpoint of promotion. The result was that officers either resigned from the Navy to stay with the program as civilians or left NR.
As some initial program personnel left, and as the requirements became greater, the ranks were largely filled with home-grown talent (i.e., personnel who had been recruited and gone through the NR education pipeline). The result of this progression was that, as the program entered the sixties, NR Headquarters became dedicated to developing its own talent (as had the Fleet) and eschewed hiring experienced people from the outside. This aversion was across the board; even instructors for general subjects (such as mathematics) at Nuclear Power School were interviewed and approved by Rickover from a pool of recent college graduates. Thus, NR adopted the philosophy that when an organization reaches a certain level of technical strength and maturity, it is highly desirable to start "growing" the next generation of replacements internally, rather than hiring senior technical talent from the outside. Procedures had to be put in place to ensure that these technical personnel were the technical equivalent, or superior, to personnel in other organizational elements.
The Interview Process
One of the most important aspects of selection was, and continues to be, the personal interview process. From the outset, Rickover considered that personal interviews were crucial to success in his selection process. The importance Rickover attached to interviews was reflected in the attention he gave to picking interviewers. He chose them from among the most senior and experienced NR staff members (officer and civilian). Considerable attention was given to achieving a balance within the sets of interviewers in order to compile a variety of viewpoints. No duties were accorded higher priority than interviewing. Entire days were set aside at headquarters to these interviews, with Admiral Rickover himself setting the example. Only the most urgent duties (such as accompanying a ship on initial sea trials) took precedence, and then the interviews were rescheduled. No one entered the program without an "interview with the Admiral."
The interview process continues virtually unchanged today.
The interviewing process in NR normally consists of three preliminary interviews, largely technical in nature, with senior officers and civilians on the NR staff. The preliminary interviewers might be any combination of officers and civilians. Again, they come from differing divisions within NR Headquarters to achieve a variety of outlooks. In combination, however, their intimate knowledge of the requirements of the work ensures that they can identify the capabilities the program needs. The final interview, and decision-making authority, remain with the program director, "the Admiral".
No formal criteria or set of questions are imposed on the interviewers. Rather, they are tasked to judge whether the candidate has those qualifications and attributes that indicate he or she can function successfully in either the rigorous technical demands imposed by duty at NR or in the fleet. To guide their questioning, the interviewers are provided with basic data about the candidates that includes: college attended, indicators of academic performance such as grade point average and class standing, and grades in courses regarded as indicative of analytical reasoning ability.
Common questions posed by the interviewers to the potential selectees might consist of the solving of calculus problems; explaining a principle of thermodynamics, physics, or chemistry; or describing technical matters pertinent to the candidate's course of study at college. NR does not look for "bookworms," however. Questions about world affairs, hobbies, or extra curricular activities are frequently pose to candidates to see if they are aware of their own surroundings. Interviewers concentrate on demonstrated reasoning ability and look for certain key attributes such as: intelligence, common sense, technical orientation, forcefulness, demonstrated leadership, industriousness, a sense of responsibility, and commitment. While all are important, intelligence and forcefulness, as well as common sense, are regarded as the most important attributes governing acceptance into the program.
Education and Training
Once the selection process is complete, the process of education and training personnel is the next area where the concepts that NR established stand out. The exact procedures and programs that comprise the NR education and training systems are not as important to this discussion as the dedication and systematic approach that NR applies to the process. However, the NR training system will be described briefly to gain a better appreciation of its thoroughness. The basic precept is that personnel must receive both adequate theoretical education and hands-on, practical training for their positions.
With the dedication to home-grown talent that became the modus operandi at NR came a recognition that, even given the excellent pool of personnel that the selection process was designed to ensure, something further was required. A comprehensive education and training program, as discussed above, was necessary to help develop the new recruits into technical professionals, whether for the fleet or for duty in NR itself (Headquarters or field offices). What is described below are the frameworks for the education and training programs used by NR. Continuing training is also provided, throughout an individual's career in the program that is appropriate to his or her position.
Education and Training at Headquarters
Education andtraining start early in a junior engineer's career at NR. During the first six months the engineers are required to complete an introductory course in naval nuclear systems. This course is taught by senior staff and covers all of the fundamental subjects required to understand the nuclear technology with which the engineer will be entrusted; homework is assigned and tests administered. The objective of this course is to familiarize the engineer with nuclear technology and lay a base for future work and education.
After successfully completing six to twelve months at NR, engineers are sent to the Bettis Reactor Engineering School (BRES) which is run by one of NR's nuclear engineering research and development laboratories. The course provides a complete graduate nuclear engineering curriculum, focused on the design and operation of nuclear power plants. The curriculum consists of mathematics, nuclear physics, fluid mechanics, materials science, core neutronics, statistics, radiological engineering and instrumentation and control. Although a small permanent staff is attached to BRES, the courses were taught largely by working professionals from the laboratory in order to keep the topics at the cutting edge of technical developments.
The capstone of this course was a naval reactor design project. This project involved everything from mechanical design and thermal-hydraulic calculations through safety analysis. The core had to meet performance specifications provided at the inception of the project. Safety calculations had to meet normal NR requirements, such as safe shutdown with one control rod stuck out of the core.
Upon completion of the BRES curriculum there was another five weeks of practical training. Three weeks were spent on shift work at a nuclear prototype plant to gain a "feel" for actual reactor operations. This was followed by two weeks at a shipyard to obtain familiarity with nuclear ship construction and maintenance.
Education and Training for Fleet Personnel
For Nautilus and Seawolf, the first two nuclear powered submarines, officers and crew were largely trained by laboratory personnel from the Bettis and Knolls Atomic Power Laboratories (more commonly known as Bettis and KAPL, respectively). Their training progress was personally monitored by Rickover and senior NR engineers. As nuclear power became an accepted part of the Navy's fleet, as opposed to a novelty, the need to integrate the needs of nuclear power into the Navy training pipeline became clear to NR.
NR has established a two-phase approach to training personnel to staff the Navy's nuclear powered ships. The first phase includes theoretical and technical education at Nuclear Power School (NPS) in the subjects necessary for reactor plant design and operation including: nuclear physics, heat transfer, metallurgy, instrumentation and control, corrosion, radiation shielding, etc. After successful completion, the candidates proceed to more education and hands-on training in reactor plant operations at one of the prototypes. Initially, these prototypes were fully-operational, power-producing reactor plants, built to prove out reactor designs and operated very similar to ships at sea. In recent years, submarines have been decommissioned and used as training platforms. NR firmly believes that operational training on the "real thing" is the only way to ensure that the trainee is faced with the same operational characteristics and the same risks they will face when fully qualified and at sea. The curriculum of six months of academic study followed by six months of operating experience at a prototype was established early in the program and remains constant to the present.
Training at NPS and at the prototype is intense. The philosophy established for NPS from the outset, and as posted at the school even today, is that "At this school, even the smartest have to work as hard as those who struggle to pass." For most students at NPS, the course is far more difficult than anything they have ever encountered. The six months of practical training at a prototype are no easier; there the demands are even greater, both academically and operationally.
Enlisted students qualify on every watch station appropriate to their specialty. Officer students are trained on every watch station and duty, including enlisted duties, before becoming qualified as an Engineering Officer of the Watch. The officers are expected to have a comprehensive understanding of each duty assigned to each of their men -- both at prototype and at sea. In addition, the students are expected to study thoroughly and be examined on the design and operating principles of the nuclear plant and each component of the plant on which they are training.
Progress is marked by the ability to pass a series of written and oral examinations and by demonstrating competence through actual performance, including emergency drills. Roughly ten percent fail academically, in spite of the rigorous selection process. There are fewer officer failures, in numbers as well as percentages, than enlisted failures. This is primarily because of the intense selection and interview process. Moreover, no officer is dropped without the admiral in charge of NR personally approving it; in this manner he can know how and why the system, or the individual, has failed.
Once a candidate has completed the NR Program's rigorous education and training sequence, their education is not over; in fact, in a number of respects, it has just begun. Lifelong learning is built into the hierarchy of qualifications present in the NR Program for Headquarters, operational and certain contractor positions. This commitment to a process of ongoing improvement of each person's capabilities is a hallmark of the program.
Qualification for Navy Operators
Training of fleet officer and enlisted personnel does not end with completion of prototype training; fleet personnel undergo extensive training and qualifications at sea, replete with examinations (both oral and written). In addition, there is an intense program of advancement in qualification requirements as personnel progress in rank and responsibility.
Qualification requirements for nuclear operators include written and oral examinations and demonstrated practical exercises. Thus, the training is performance-based, not unlike DOE's requirements at nuclear facilities or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requirements at commercial facilities. Qualification for all enlisted positions and for officers through Engineering Officer of the Watch is repeated within each individual's ship, even after complete qualification at a prototype. However, officers advancing to Engineering department head (or "Engineer Officer") are examined by written and oral examinations at NR Headquarters.
Subsequently, prospective commanding officers of nuclear-powered ships are required to attend a three-month course of instruction at NR Headquarters replete with extensive written and oral examinations, more comprehensive than the Engineer Officer examinations. This course is conducted at NR and is taught by NR senior staff engineers. It includes in-depth instruction, study, and examinations in: reactor design and physics, thermodynamics, metallurgy and welding, radiological control, shielding, chemistry, and operating principles. "The Admiral" makes the final decisions regarding success or failure at each step of the process during these advanced qualifications for Chief Engineers and new Commanding Officers.
There are time limits for an officer's advancement through these qualifications. Those not qualifying are separated from the program and will never return. Before this ultimate failure, intense efforts are undertaken to help the candidate succeed. However, continued lack of performance or a clearly demonstrated lack of ability to grasp the fundamentals of advanced qualifications, by either written or oral examinations, will result in this weeding out process. It does happen at both the officer and enlisted levels; personnel are consistently weeded out as they attempt to advance (in spite of the rigorous initial selection process) as they reach the limits of their capabilities.
Qualification for NR Headquarters Personnel
Personnel in the headquarters organization do not operate the reactors and, therefore, a qualification program as predominantly performance-based as that for fleet operators is not appropriate. Nevertheless, a program exists at NR Headquarters for performance observation and reviews that is as comprehensive as that employed at sea. However, its focus is different, its primary focus is on the ability to provide technical direction that is based on NR's standards and a sound technical understanding of a given problem or situation. Since the impact of such decisions on safety can be quite significant, they should be made by personnel every bit as qualified to perform their function as the fleet's personnel are to operate reactors.
Therefore, there are steps in advancement that require that the technical staff undergo evaluation and "qualification" within the job performance at headquarters. These processes include technical assignments to develop personnel and reviews by senior engineers of individual accomplishments. The junior engineers are examined on the principles of their assignments and the effect of their decisions on the fleet. A common sense approach is considered almost as important as the technical background. Throughout, consideration of safety is held paramount.
The penultimate qualification for NR engineers is to be granted signature authority. This authority permits the engineer to approve proposals on behalf of NR and has the effect of imposing direction and decisions by the NR engineer upon fleet operating procedures and nuclear propulsion plant systems. Various levels of signature authority exist; the importance of signature authority varies with level. In addition to signature authority, assignment to certain difficult, high-profile tasks is a well- understood signal that you have "made it." Such tasks included: participating in audits of contractor and shipyard performance, participating in operational reactor safeguard examinations of naval ships and prototypes, and other similar reviews. The ultimate sign of having "made it," however, was being assigned to a position that reports directly to "the Admiral."
The progress of technical personnel at headquarters is reported to the highest levels of management within the organization including the admiral in charge. Personnel who exhibit difficulty in advancing or who do not perform adequately, are given help at NR Headquarters, as are the operators at sea. If, however, they continue to demonstrate that they cannot succeed in a position, they will not be asked to stay on after their initial tour; in a sense this initial tour (two to five years) as a junior officer is viewed as a trial period. If they are past their initial tour and having problems, even after extensive efforts on their behalf, they are either transferred to a job where they can succeed or removed.
NR and its Contractors
As with DOE, much of the work performed in the NR program is actually performed by the contractors. The Bettis laboratory is run by Westinghouse; cores are manufactured by Babcock and Wilcox; primary components are made by a number of vendors, under the direct supervision of arms of the Bettis (or KAPL) organizations; and the reactor plant, as a whole, is assembled at private shipyards and overhauled and refitted at Naval Shipyards.
From the above, it can be seen that a number of similarities exist between the management scheme within NR and that which exists, in principle, in DOE. There are also, however, significant differences that are instructive to explore.
NR has had long-term relationships with its contractors: Westinghouse has run the Bettis laboratory since the inception of the program; Electric Boat built Nautilus and has been building submarines for NR and the Navy ever since; Newport News has built all of the nuclear carriers; and the list could go on. Most of these contracts are awarded on a sole-source basis after tough negotiation between NR and the contractor.
This stability, along with the technical competence of the NR Headquarters staff, has led to extraordinary and effective working relationships between NR and its contractors. The contractors, by and large, do not make major personnel changes without first discussing it with their respective NR customers. On the other hand, NR works closely with contractors and keeps them well informed if any cutbacks will be required due to budgetary constraints or completion of a ship class. This excellent working relationship has permitted NR to be successful in maintaining the program's technical expertise, even in a downsizing environment.
For some contractor employees who play pivotal roles in nuclear safety, the NR program has established selection, training and qualification program criteria that it requires its contractors to adhere to. Examples of such positions include test engineers at private and naval shipyards; startup physicists, provided by Bettis and KAPL for refuelings and initial core criticalities; joint test group members from Bettis and KAPL, who monitor reactor plant test programs; and a number of others.
The basic requirements for these positions are explained in technical directives developed and issued by NR Headquarters. The implementation of these directives is monitored at the vendors site by a special category of NR Headquarters personnel: the NR Field Representative.
The Role of the "Field Representative"
NR has placed a Field Office to monitor the contractor's performance at each vendor site. The head of each of these numerous offices is an experienced headquarters engineer specially selected, trained, and qualified for the position.
In order to be selected as a Field Representative, an engineer had to have an outstanding track record within his or her specialty; have shown the desire and capability to contribute in the broader areas of the NR program; and, of course, have consistently exhibited the highly-valued attributes of intelligence and forcefulness. Being selected as a Field Representative is highly sought after and considered to be a clear mark of distinction. Most of the top level management at NR has been "in the field" at one time or another.
A specific training and qualification program was established for prospective Field Representatives. They were exposed to all the important divisions within NR Headquarters (to understand the entirety of the headquarters role) and then spent one to two years as an assistant at a Field Office. During their time as an assistant, they are required to complete a qualification program specific to the site. This program includes self-study, coursework, and on-the-job training, along with regular written and oral examinations. Only after garnering the respective Field Representative's endorsement would the individual be recommended back to headquarters for assignment as the head of their own field office.
However, the program does not end there. It was understood from the outset, that assignments to the field were of limited duration, and eventually the incumbent would be rotated back to headquarters; after a successful tour a senior management job could be expected.
It is clearly understood that there are differences in the overall mission between DOE and Naval Reactors. However, both have nuclear safety responsibilities. The exact personnel management methods applicable to one, for instance, the NR "field" and Headquarters, may not be totally appropriate to the other; however, the philosophy behind these methods is basically the same. The discussion of interest is the philosophy and the methods behind ensuring technical excellence of personnel.
Philosophy behind Fleet Procedures
What were the reasons for the emphasis by NR on personnel selection, education and training, and qualification? NR had its hands full in designing nuclear propulsion plants suitable for shipboard operation and then guiding their construction and testing. However, these plants had to operate reliably and safely in intense tactical situations, as well as in the vicinity of large cities when entering or leaving port.
Foremost in NR's goals was technical qualification. The ships often operate at sea on independent operations with a requirement to maintain radio silence. In order to continue to operate the reactor plant safely under such circumstances, the onboard operators have to understand how the plant is physically designed, the physics behind power plant dynamics, and the reasons for each step in the operating procedures. If the plant ever exceeds normal operating limits, the operators have to know how to return it to normal conditions and what potential harm may have resulted. In extreme tactical situations, the operators have to know the full limits of the plant's safe operations in case these margins have to be called upon.
NR is of the philosophy that shipboard officers have to be as technically competent in all aspects of plant operation as the most senior chief petty officers. In addition, the senior officers (Captain, Executive Officer, and Chief Engineer) must achieve technical qualifications above anyone else on the ship. This is because in emergencies these officers have to make the correct decisions on the spot and immediately. These decisions have to be based not only on the experience of these officers, but on the theoretical knowledge of plant dynamics and the limits to which the plant is designed. Thus, the selection process continues to be oriented toward identifying those personnel who can demonstrate clear thinking under stress, perseverance, hard work, a quest for excellence, proven academic ability and intelligence, and the willingness to accept the responsibility for making decisions. Following selection, the education, training, qualification, and requalification processes have to be equally demanding and thorough.
Philosophy behind Headquarters Procedures
The same principles that govern fleet operations are true for the engineers who comprise the NR Headquarters organization. They have to design plants and develop maintenance programs for these plants that will be subjected to extreme operational demands and, no matter the age, must perform as designed. The Captain and Chief Engineer at sea, as well as the laboratories and contractor facilities that support the Naval Reactors organization, know that the center for technical expertise and backup exists at NR Headquarters.
Fleet operators know that they can call NR at any time from places such as Guam or Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and get full technical support. Whatever the nature of the question, usually an answer via the telephone is all that is needed because of the technical competency of the operators (however, all telephone approvals are followed up in writing within 24 hours). The organizations in the "field," such as the prototypes and laboratories, realize that NR Headquarters is the source of direction and the final approval for answers to engineering questions. In addition, NR provides technical direction to, and conducts reviews of: the laboratories that conduct naval reactors-related business and vendors who perform nuclear component work, as well as to the nuclear-powered ships. These evaluations could not be meaningful without the continuous technical direction and management review provided by headquarters based on consistent technical competence.
The NR methods of selecting, training, qualifying, and requalifying its personnel are, in principle, very similar to those outlined in DOE's Orders and directives. The philosophies of the programs, whether practiced within the Naval Reactors areas of interest or at DOE nuclear facilities, are not so dissimilar as to limit adapting some lessons learned at one operation to the other. There are parallels between the naval nuclear propulsion program and the DOE nuclear programs.
While the immediate responses by at sea operators and (at times) NR engineers generally may not be required in day-to-day DOE operations, there are times when the DOE organization is called upon for technical support and decisions. In addition, both organizations supervise and take a leading role in safety reviews of field operations. Thus, not only are the philosophies and methods similar, so are the requirements and procedures.
If existing personnel selection, education, training and qualification standards are not adequate to yield the level of technical personnel necessary, then they should be enhanced and followed by institutionalizing the changes for lasting value. In the end, the jobs at DOE Headquarters, just as the jobs at NR Headquarters, need to be considered both attractive and prestigious. This is required if personnel are to be retained in the organization after they are qualified and have gained meaningful experience.