Organizational Learning at Nuclear Power Plants

John S. Carroll, Constance Perin, and Alfred A. Marcus


John S. Carroll, Constance Perin, and Alfred A. Marcus, December 1991

The Nuclear Power Plant Advisory Panel on Organizational Learning provides channels of communications between the management and organization research projects of the MIT International Program for Enhanced Nuclear Power Plant Safety and plant personnel actively concerned with important operational issues, inside and outside the control room, relevant to safety. The Panel is conceived as an opportunity for plants to share their knowledge and concerns about aspects of management and organization, with a particular emphasis on self-assessment, learning, and the management of change. Further, the Panel seeks to identify opportunities for collaborative research with practical benefits.

At the first Panel meeting, 20 representatives from U.S. nuclear power plants and utilities and 14 MIT faculty, research staff, and students explored mutual interests and priorities in order to guide future research efforts. Professor John Carroll introduced the overall MIT research project. Three MIT researchers discussed their proposed research: Professor Alfred Marcus discussed quantitative analyses of improvements in U.S. nuclear power plant safety during the 1980s, and the need to conduct detailed studies of plant improvements and of utility strategies; Dr. Constance Perin discussed how work requires bridging across functions, levels, technical groups, and shifts within a social and cultural system, and proposed to study various plant programs in terms of their vertical relationships and institutional context; Professor John Carroll focused on the analysis of safety-relevant incidents through the application of knowledge distributed among various professional groups in the plant, and the need for research to characterize this knowledge and its relationship to performance enhancement. In addition, Professor Michael Golay discussed the organization and management implications of new reactor technology, and Professor Thomas Kochan summarized research on contractor training and safety in the petrochemical industry.

Roundtable groups discussed three topics of their own choosing: configuration control, proactivity and communication with management, and event trending (including root cause analysis and corrective action tracking). A wide-ranging discussion explored topics of mutual interest, their connections to safe operations and their potential for research. A variety of research opportunities were raised and discussed, along with next steps for continued communication between the Panel and MIT.