UK regulator's chief executive reflects on her first year

23 November 2016

Adriènne Kelbie, chief executive of the UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), reflected on a "hectic and rewarding" introduction to the nuclear industry in a recent interview with World Nuclear News (WNN). Kelbie, who joined ONR in January, described a "positive year" for the UK nuclear safety and security regulator, but acknowledged there is still "plenty of hard work ahead" to help ONR be "fit for a busier and more challenging future".

Kelbie (right) takes the stage next to World Nuclear Association director general Agneta Rising at the Women in Nuclear Annual Global Conference in Abu Dhabi. (Image: ONR)

Recently appointed as the first patron of Women in Nuclear UK (WiN), Kelbie is participating this week in the 24th Women in Nuclear Annual Global Conference in Abu Dhabi. She is an official speaker at the event, in a panel discussion titled Gender Equality in the Nuclear Industry.

Kelbie recently accepted the invitation to support WiN in its mission to address the industry's gender balance and improve the representation of women in leadership. She "rarely offered views about gender diversity in the past", but feels it is a "missed opportunity" that women make up only around 20% of the UK nuclear industry.

She told WNN: "I feel passionately that the best teams bring diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experience and I've been very struck by how much this industry is losing out because women are under-represented.

"This is a great waste of talent in a sector facing growth and severe skills shortages, which a more diverse workforce could tangibly address. Legislation has made huge improvements to the opportunities for women, and for minorities, in the last 50 years. But I don't believe policies are the issue any more. It's now about culture and behaviours.

"So I'm pleased and honoured to be able to work with Women in Nuclear to increase the profile of this important matter."


New team

ONR, which became a statutory public corporation in April 2014, has a new senior management team that includes Chief Nuclear Inspector Richard Savage, who is accountable for ONR's independent regulatory decision making. The organisation employs more than 500 people at its three offices in Merseyside, Cheltenham and London.

ONR continues to adapt to its new independent role while evolving to reflect rising regulatory demand and the UK's ambitious new build plans, Kelbie said. Over the coming year, the organisation will further extend its 'Enabling Regulation' principles which aim to promote a constructive approach with industry and other key stakeholders to enable clear and prioritised safety and security outcomes, she said.

"Government has made commitments that will keep ONR busier than ever before, with a more diverse and larger portfolio than for many years. Whilst this brings very welcome opportunities for ONR, it also presents some challenges that we need to address to succeed for the next 50 years.

"When I took up this role, my brief was that ONR's regulation was world class - and it is - so my focus would be to help ONR grow into its new role as an independent Public Corporation.

"In my first year I felt it was critical to listen to the industry, to staff, stakeholders, and to Government. I have visited many licensed sites over the last year as I wanted to hear first-hand from those that we regulate about their concerns, pressures and issues, to help inform how ONR responds to those and where we might do better. It is pleasing that this feedback has been positive, giving a common message that our inspectors generally do an excellent job of challenging industry to improve safety and security, earning respect, trust and confidence.

"I have also met with several non-nuclear regulators to discover and share good practice and hear about ways of working that may be transferrable."

Reinforcing a point she made in an interview with WNN in September, Kelbie said ONR currently has a full complement of the inspectors it needs, and is on track with its planned expansion to reflect rising regulatory demand.

She said: "ONR truly has a world class team. It is our most enviable resource, and one that we must cherish by retaining our people while also growing our team in size and skills.

"We've been recruiting, constantly, since I got here. Not because lots of people are leaving, but because we are growing. While this means our 'old hands' will spend time supporting new colleagues, it also presents great opportunities to get fresh thinking about why and how we do what we do."

ONR recruited 43 new nuclear specialists in 2015-16 and another 36 new starters are already in post in 2016-17. Its third cohort of seven 'nuclear graduates' also joined in October.

"A further key challenge to me - and this comes from staff, our Board, from industry, and from Government - is whether ONR can be more efficient and offer better value for money, to ensure it can meet this greater demand," Kelbie said.

"We recognise the need to ensure that ONR is fit for the future. We believe we need to update our approach to optimising new inspector capability and adopt a holistic approach to staff development and retention alongside improved knowledge management as some experienced specialists approach retirement.

"Now is the time when ONR needs to balance its day to day regulatory delivery with our need for strategic change to secure our long-term sustainability and high performance.

"Our teams appreciate the importance of our role, and want to continue to succeed. And I have every confidence that they will continue to be a force for good in national and international safety and security regulation."

Enabling Regulation

'Enabling Regulation' encompasses a set of principles and practices which have been part of ONR's regulatory approach for some time and have brought significant success in recent years.

Achievements at Sellafield are cited as a key example, including a 70% reduction in radiological inventory from the Pile Fuel Storage Pond, significantly reducing the risk and hazard associated with the facility.

The Sellafield site is the largest nuclear site in Europe, and with over 1000 nuclear facilities on site ranks as one of the most complex in the world. Today the site is home to a wide range of operations including the decommissioning of redundant buildings associated with its early defence work dating back to the 1940s, used fuel management including reprocessing, and the safe management and storage of nuclear waste.

Kelbie also noted successful collaborative work with the Environment Agency which drives the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process for new nuclear reactors.

She pointed out that the obligation by industry 'dutyholders' to demonstrate and deliver safety and security remains unchanged, and ONR's independence in its regulatory decision making is retained and absolute.

She entirely supports Savage's view that the principles of Enabling Regulation "be at the heart of all our regulatory work".

"Of course ONR is a legally empowered regulator and we will continue to be robust in upholding the law, using regulatory enforcement to hold to account where necessary.

"The characteristics of the enabling approach include: identification and adoption of fit-for-purpose solutions, effective communications and information sharing, a mutual recognition of strategic factors in decision making, and collaborative behaviours where appropriate.

"Perhaps most importantly, positive behaviours between key stakeholders are a key principle in order to promote constructive, open and trusted engagement.

"The enabling approach recognises that industry, regulators and Government can often work closely to achieve a common purpose by focusing on outcomes not process and recognising that 'not doing' can have its own risk burden. The progress in reducing the risk posed by legacy wastes at Sellafield is a great example of this."

She added: "While some may be concerned that working collaboratively with industry could diminish licensee accountability, this is fundamentally not the case. Rather, by working together, ONR can ensure that it is directly influencing safety and security outcomes which remain the responsibility of all our dutyholders to meet the requirements of the law."

Prior to joining ONR, Kelbie was chief executive of the Disclosure and Barring Service, a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Home Office.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News