Forum on Energy Q&A: Admiral (ret.) Robert F. Willard, Institute of Nuclear Power Operations

Admiral (ret.) Robert F. Willard, President and CEO, INPO

The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) works to promote the highest levels of safety, reliability and excellence in the operation of commercial nuclear power plants. Forum on Energy recently sat down with Admiral (ret.) Robert F. Willard, President and CEO of INPO, to discuss the organization and its mission.


Forum on Energy: How would you describe the difference between INPO and the NRC? How do these institutions work together?

Admiral (ret.) Robert F. Willard: Our roles are distinct, but complementary. The NRC has in-depth technical expertise, the licensing process, and regulatory oversight responsibilities to assure adequate protection of the health and safety of the public.

INPO builds upon the solid regulatory foundation established by the NRC. We were founded and staffed by our members to promote the highest levels of safety and reliability excellence in the operation of commercial nuclear power plants. Our expertise comes from our members and the overall industry.

INPO and the NRC work collaboratively when appropriate – for example, together we consolidated our differing terms and phrasings and developed a common nuclear safety culture language that makes the goals and ideals clearer and easier to understand. In addition, we share and exchange information. The NRC Chairman is a featured speaker at the annual INPO CEO Conference, and we participate in NRC conferences and events as well.


Forum on Energy: Based on your first-hand experience, how does the U.S. Navy contribute to INPO’s expertise and enhance the safety of civilian nuclear power in the U.S.?

Willard: The two programs are distinct from each other and operationally separate. There is no sharing of operating experience, primarily due to the confidentiality, sensitivity, and the classification of the information.

However, the crossover of nuclear power professionals from the Navy to INPO and the commercial nuclear power industry produces benefits. The commercial nuclear power industry has been significantly influenced and enhanced by the training standards, operational standards, and leadership culture that former Navy nuclear power professionals bring to it.


Forum on Energy: What is INPO doing to implement lessons learned from Fukushima?

Willard: INPO has a key leadership role in the U.S. nuclear industry response to the 2011 events at Fukushima Daiichi.

Following the accident, the Electric Power Research Institute, Nuclear Energy Institute, senior U.S. nuclear industry executives, and INPO together developed a coordinated response to ensure that the lessons learned from the events at Fukushima Daiichi were identified and well understood, and that the actions taken were effectively coordinated and implemented.

As part of those efforts, we have established a new division within INPO to increase our emergency response capabilities, follow up on the implementation of Fukushima Daiichi-related recommendations, and pursue excellence in industry emergency preparedness.

To assure that the nuclear power industry had a deep understanding of the causes and contributors to the accident, a team of INPO, WANO, and U.S. industry personnel conducted an event review in Japan and identified operational and organizational lessons learned that were then communicated to the industry in INPO documents.

In addition, we’ve been extensively involved with domestic and international conferences and forums related to the accident. Last year, Fukushima Forum II – which we co-sponsored, and helped initiate in 2011 – was attended by over 100 nuclear professionals from more than 20 countries who shared information and reported on the actions they’re taking in response to Fukushima Daiichi.


Forum on Energy: How is INPO collaborating with the new Japan Nuclear Safety Institute (JANSI)?

Willard: Our involvement has included reviewing and advising the formation team.

We have also had discussions with Japanese nuclear power CEOs and senior leaders about the functional support needed from them for JANSI to succeed. It is not unlike the support that INPO needs and gets from the U.S. commercial nuclear power industry to help make us effective.


Forum on Energy: How does INPO’s 33 years of experience inform its work with JANSI? What are the relevant lessons learned over time?

Willard: INPO’s mission has not changed since we were founded in 1979. It is to promote the highest levels of safety and reliability – to promote excellence – in the operation of commercial nuclear power plants. An important distinction is that we do not advocate for the nuclear power industry. Rather, we promote excellence within it.

Our mission establishes that the pursuit of excellence is a journey that never ends. Real safety excellence is an enduring goal, and something in which the entire nuclear power industry must choose to be part.

Two years ago, when speaking before the national commission investigating the BP Deepwater Horizon accident, INPO leadership described the key factors that have enabled INPO to be effective in helping improve safety in the commercial nuclear power industry. They include CEO engagement, a focus on nuclear safety and nuclear safety culture, industry collaboration, accountability, and independence.

After the Presidential Commission on Three Mile Island spurred the commercial nuclear power industry to create INPO, gaining all those elements took a lot of hard work and significant time to develop. But they have enduring value in the pursuit of high levels of performance and real safety excellence.