A graduate of the US Naval Academy, Pate holds a PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT. Serving in the US Navy from 1958 to 1980, Captain Pate commanded nuclear-powered submarines and was a special assistant to Admiral Hyman Rickover. Dr Pate is a recipient of the James N. Landis Medal, the William S. Lee Award for “visionary leadership in encouraging and promoting excellence throughout the nuclear power industry”, and the Henry DeWolf Smyth Nuclear Statesman Award. In 2002, Dr Pate was honoured by the World Nuclear Association for his “distinguished contribution to the peaceful worldwide uses of nuclear energy” as a founder and leader of the World Association of Nuclear Operations (WANO). He is Chairman-Emeritus of both the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and WANO.
Philip L. Cantelon, president of History Associates Incorporated, graduated from Dartmouth College and holds an M.A. from the University of Michigan and Ph.D. in history from Indiana University. He taught contemporary American history at Williams College for nine years and then worked for a year as a policy analyst and speechwriter at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
January 12, 2015
Dear Dr. Cantelon,
The purpose of this letter is to discuss Admiral Hyman G. Rickover’s legacy as it relates to INPO and WANO, and to the civilian nuclear power industry.
A few days ago you and I were discussing the recent PBS documentary film The Birth of Nuclear Power and the observation that the film did not include coverage of the impact Rickover had on the US nuclear utility industry, or INPO, or, ultimately, on WANO. (nor do any of the several books written about Rickover).
I mentioned that I had been asked twice to come to Washington to give a testimonial for the documentary (coming to the filming studio in DC was a condition of participating) but that health issues had prevented my participation—and that, if I had been able to participate, my theme would have been Rickover’s contribution to the commercial nuclear industry in the US, and indeed, worldwide.
In my view Rickover’s influence carried over well beyond the nuclear Navy in a major and very positive way through the influence he had on hundreds, indeed thousands, of officers, enlisted men and civilians whose professional behavior and even character were shaped by their participation in the Naval Reactors program (aka Rickover program). His methods, his high standards, his emphasis on accountability, his unrelenting quest for excellence, his focus on safety first, etc. are all well documented, so I don’t need to dwell on that. But what is not well documented is the ownership of his methods and principles that so many participants took as their own—and the bonding and mutual trust that developed among so many of us. (This was not true for all participants—some even resented Rickover’s approach—but I believe it was true for a healthy majority). These qualities and relationships were carried into civilian life as participants in the Rickover program retired or left the service after a significant period of indoctrination/inoculation. I’ll call this the Rickover Civilian Legacy.
INPO was a major beneficiary of the Rickover legacy. First of all by having retired Vice Admiral Dennis Wilkinson as its first CEO. Wilkinson exemplified the qualities just discussed. It was a blessing to me (and I believe to INPO) that I had the privilege of working for Rickover for three years and then Wilkinson for four years just before becoming CEO of INPO.
By the mid-point of my tenure as CEO (~1990) sixty five people who had served in the Rickover program were employed by INPO. Most had extensive nuclear experience and more than 20 of the 65 had had command of a nuclear submarine or nuclear cruiser. Virtually all brought their Rickover training and indoctrination with them to INPO with a sense of pride. By 1990 nine of INPO’s top 11 executives (vice president or senior) had served in the Navy nuclear program. Needless to say, many of the principles and the passion for nuclear safety that were standard fare in the Rickover program became embedded in INPO’s culture.
We had an impressive team—in the late 1980s Bill Lee (Lee, CEO of Duke Power and a key founder of INPO. was INPO’s first chairman) stated in an INPO board meeting that INPO had enough executive and management talent to run any of the biggest utilities in the country (INPO had about 400 employees; the largest utilities over 20,000).
Meanwhile, a significant number of senior nuclear trained officers were retiring and taking positions with nuclear utilities. By the mid-1990s I could count over a dozen retired admirals, as well as numerous commanders and captains, who had retired from the Rickover program and taken positions with INPO member utilities. Quite a number of these people became the top nuclear executive, and several became the president or CEO.
By the early 1990s I had visited and toured each nuclear plant in the US, some more than once. During these visits I always encountered and had discussions with operators and technicians, department managers, etc. who had previously served in the nuclear Navy. At some plants more than half of the control room operators had come from the Navy nuclear program. With few exceptions they spoke favorably of their training and experience in the Rickover program, and its value in their current job—even when they were unhappy about the last INPO team visit!
In addition to positions in the utilities, by the mid-1980s quite a few people from the Rickover program were employed in various positions at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Two retired admirals who were prominent in the Rickover program (Lando Zech and Ken Carr) served successively as chairmen of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, from 1984 to 1991. A third retired admiral, also prominent in the Navy nuclear program, served as Secretary of Energy from 1989 to 1993—more on this later. All three were fully supportive of INPO, and most helpful in building INPO’s stature and credibility.
Moving forward in time, well beyond my retirement, to INPO’s 35th year. Six of the seven executives who have served as CEO of INPO have had experience in the Navy nuclear program. Each CEO was selected by the INPO Board of Directors, made up of utility executives, on the basis of merit and the candidate’s perceived ability to carry forward and improve the performance and culture built in to INPO over the years.
In summary, many hundreds of professionals from the Navy nuclear program had left the Navy in the years following Three Mile Island (some on an ideological quest to share their Rickover training with the civilian nuclear industry). Many more had left in the years that followed, as the Cold War wound down and the Navy nuclear program began to shrink in size, to take positions throughout the civilian nuclear industry—with many earning top positions.
The improvement in the performance of the US nuclear utility industry over the past three decades is widely documented and recognized, but perhaps it can best be summarized by the following observation: In the 1970s and early 1980s the performance of the US industry was among the worst of the more than two dozen countries then operating nuclear plants to generate electricity. Our industry’s performance was frequently derided at international conferences and in other forums. I personally witnessed this on too many occasions. Today, the performance of the US industry is World Class among the very best of the 29 or so countries with a nuclear electric program. It is admired and emulated worldwide. Many, many fine people who were never involved with the Navy nuclear program contributed to this phenomenal success but for sure Rickover’s Civilian Legacy played a major role.
WITHOUT RICKOVER THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN AN INPO BUT THERE MAY NEVER HAVE BEEN A WANO
After retiring from the US Senate, and as chairman of the senate armed services committee, Georgia senator Sam Nunn took a keen interest in INPO. Partly because he became an admirer of Rickover while in the Senate, and thought the civilian industry could benefit from his approach to nuclear energy. And partly because he and Ted Turner were then planning and soon forming the Nuclear Strategic Initiative—a non-proliferation Non Government Organization (NGO) based in Washington. (NGOs are typically not-for-profit, as is the case for INPO). Sen. Nunn visited with INPO senior executives and staff at our offices in Atlanta several times and received many briefings on INPO. He accompanied me on a trip to Moscow to help gain an audience with the Russian Minister of Energy (and to help persuade him to fully support WANO). He arranged access to Vice President Gore to get help with a complicated international issue, and he attended two WANO BGMs, giving a keynote address at one in Victoria, BC. After this extensive involvement he stated, on several occasions, that INPO was the most effective NGO he had encountered, and he had been involved with many. He stated further that INPO makes things happen, while most NGOs hold meetings, do research, and publish papers that are useful, and often shape opinions, but don’t actually go out and fix problems. Similar sentiments have been voiced by others over time. So, without Rickover, there would have been an INPO, but it may well have been a typical NGO as described by Nunn.
There are two major reasons why there may not have been a WANO without Rickover. First, under Wilkinson’s leadership INPO established an international program (with an International Participant Advisory Committee) in its earliest days. Through that program senior executives from 14 or so countries had been closely observing INPO’s progress and the US industry’s progress for several years when the Chernobyl accident occurred. They were impressed by progress in the US, and quick to say so. Members of this committee participated directly in planning what to do in response to Chernobyl. If INPO had been a typical NGO, and US industry progress had been minimal, there would have been little incentive to emulate INPO on an international scale. Quite the opposite occurred.
Second, and on a more pragmatic note, in the many months of planning leading up to the WANO Inaugural Meeting in Moscow in 1989, INPO met a lot of resistance from the US State Department and the Department of Energy. Recall that at that point in time Cuba was building nuclear plants and South Africa, which operates the Koeberg nuclear plant, was in the midst of Apartheid.
Both countries were prospective members of WANO. State did not want the US associating with these countries in any fashion—but a basic premise of WANO was that all countries operating a nuclear electric plant should be members. Bill Lee, along with a person from the State Department, made a trip to Cuba and a visit to Cuba’s construction site for their Russian designed nuclear plants to try to help us get through this bureaucratic obstacle. After many meetings at State and DOE by retired Admiral Stan Anderson, then vice president of our International Program, and our extraordinarily capable attorney, James Miller, and some help from a very influential Bill Lee, we thought we were doing pretty well. The Inaugural meeting was fully planned and many, indeed most, US utility CEOs were registered and had plane reservations to attend. Then on a Friday just a few weeks before the Moscow meeting I received a letter from a senior officia at DOE, addressed to me by name, effectively directing INPO to cease and desist in any plans to form an international nuclear organization. That was a horrible Friday—we quickly realized we could not proceed with that letter on record—no one from INPO could go to Moscow—and most, if not all, US CEOs would cancel. The Inaugural meeting would have to be postponed, and re-scheduling, with US government opposition, would be problematic.
I finally reached the Secretary of Energy at home (no cell phones then) late Saturday afternoon and he agreed to meet me in his office Monday morning at 7:30, before his first official appointment. I walked out of the DOE building at mid-morning that Monday with a letter retracting the cease and desist order, signed personally by the Secretary of Energy. The Secretary, at that point in history, was retired Admiral James Watkins. He had been a star in the Rickover program for many years, with his last post being Chief of Naval Operations. I had not known Watkins personally in the Navy, but we had the special bond of both serving under Rickover. And, my last post in the Navy, working directly for Rickover, was the exact same post Watkins had held a
decade or so earlier. He knew that and I knew that—that
strengthened the bond.
In most any other circumstance it is unlikely that a Secretary of Energy would have been so helpful to the CEO of a very small company in Atlanta. Any top executive is reluctant to override a senior person in their organization. Once again the Rickover Legacy was crucially important.
And the legacy endures as WANO progresses. Two chairmen of WANO to date had served in the Rickover program. Three executives who have held the top position in WANO’s London Office had nuclear Navy credentials. So have four of the chairmen of the WANO Atlanta Center—as have many, many participants in WANO peer reviews and other WANO programs. As I write this, Tom Mitchell, CEO of Ontario Power Generation (OPG), is chairman of the WANO Atlanta Center and a member of the main WANO Governing Board. Mitchell was on Rickover’s staff when I served at Naval Reactors and came to INPO in the early 1980s— which was the start of his distinguished civilian career in the US nuclear industry and then in Canada. OPG operates the largest nuclear program in Canada and the third largest in the Western hemisphere. A second member of the main WANO Governing Board today is INPO’s CEO Bob Willard, a retired four star admiral who was qualified by Naval Reactors before serving as Commanding Officer of a nuclear powered Aircraft Carrier. Willard’s last position in the Navy, before retiring and being recruited by INPO, was commander of the Pacific Theater, where he gained valuable WANO related experience interacting with many Asian countries.
WANO’s 25 year history of growing influence and success is the result of hard work and dedication by many people from all over the world. The Rickover Legacy has not and does not dominate WANO’s worldwide landscape—but it has been an important contributor—and it lives on!
Best Regards, Zack