Nuclear Knowledge Management


Definition of knowledge management

Nuclear Knowledge Management abstraction.jpg
Consistent with the working definition used in Knowledge Management for Nuclear Industry Operating Organizations, IAEA TECDOC Series No.1510[1] this document also defines knowledge management (KM) to be an integrated, systematic approach to identifying, acquiring, transforming, developing, disseminating, using, sharing, and preserving knowledge, relevant to achieving specified objectives. The use of KM helps an organization to gain insight and understanding from its own experience. Specific activities in knowledge management help the organization to better acquire, store and utilize knowledge. Knowledge management consists of three fundamental components: people, processes and technology (see Figure 1).
Knowledge management focuses on people and organizational culture to stimulate and nurture the sharing and use of knowledge; on processes or methods to find, create, capture and share knowledge; and on technology to store and assimilate knowledge and to make it readily accessible in a manner which will allow people to work together even if they are not located together. People are the most important component in a KM system and the creation of new knowledge is one of its most valuable byproducts. For a KM system to function properly, the people involved must be willing to share and re-use existing knowledge and to cooperatively generate new knowledge to the advantage of the organization.

KNowledge Management Diagram.jpg Figure 1: The organizational context for KM

Knowledge management is quite a recent concept, having come to prominence during the 1990s. However, due to the nature of nuclear power plant operating organizations (high hazard but low risk), a number of plant activities and programmes have been in place throughout the industry to manage and control the knowledge and information related to nuclear power plant design, construction, operation and maintenance. Examples of such existing KM activities employed by NPPs (and, in most other NTFs - Nuclear Technology Facilities) include the following functions:

Plant policies and procedures;

  • Communication techniques;
  • Configuration management;
  • Document control;
  • Work control systems;
  • Quality assurance and quality management;
  • Operating experience programmes;
  • Corrective action systems;
  • Safety analysis;
  • Training and development;
  • Human resource management;
  • Company intranet and other web-based strategies.

The implementation of a KM system is not intended to replace any of these systems, but rather should increase the benefits to be derived from these systems in conjunction with the deployment of an integrated management system. If properly implemented, KM should not have to ‘take over’ existing NTF programmes or activities; to the contrary, KM should be a catalyst to increase the benefits to the organization of these activities. The lessons learned in the nuclear industry in the past 20 years in moving from inspecting quality through large quality assurance organizations to building quality into all facility processes have considerable relevance for KM implementation. The success of KM programs in NTF organizations should not be measured by whether or not there is a Chief Knowledge Management Officer or a large KM organizational unit. Rather, KM-related success should be determined based on whether KM ideas are a part of the daily life, practices and culture of NTF organizations; and, whether KM methods are being used throughout the organization to enable NTF personnel to achieve safe, reliable, and cost-effective results. Therefore, the strategies of an organization must be considered as well as its objectives. Indeed, KM is itself an organizational strategy.

Noted knowledge management practices

This section provides noted practices regarding the management of knowledge. One paragraph is provided for each practice; beginning with a statement of the practice and followed by a brief description and, as applicable, references to related documents for guidance and examples.

Training and qualification

1. A systematic approach to training (SAT) is implemented to achieve, maintain, and improve personnel knowledge, skill, and performance to support plant safety and performance goals. For more than 15 years the IAEA has been encouraging NPP operating organizations to implement SAT-based training programmes. In many Member States, SAT-based training is the accepted standard for training of NPP personnel. Following references [2] [3] [4] are some of the IAEA publications regarding SAT-based training.
2. Continuing training, including just-in-time training (JIT) ensures that plant personnel maintain their job-specific knowledge and skills. Reference [11] provides examples of how such simulators are used to meet job-specific training needs for control room personnel.
3. Training materials and examinations are current, accurate, and of high quality. Reference [5] provides examples of methods used by some NPP operating organizations to develop high quality, SAT-based training materials.[6]
4. Contractor personnel assigned to work independently in plant activities perform to the same standards as the plant staff and are verified to have the specialized skills and training appropriate to tasks they perform independently. Responsibilities are established for oversight of contractor personnel who work independently. Reference [7] provides examples of methods that NPP operating organizations in Member States have used to address this need.

Communication methods and techniques

1. Managers practice visible leadership in the field through observing performance; coaching and mentoring personnel; and, reinforcing standards. One area where observation of performance is particularly difficult is for cognitive tasks such as those typically performed by engineers or other technical support personnel.

2. Managers encourage cooperation and teamwork among plant organizational units, especially when successful implementation of work activities requires support from several groups. The organization’s values and behaviors are modeled by its leaders and practiced by all plant staff. Effective mechanisms are in place to promptly transfer these values and expected behaviors to new staff.

Human resource management

1. Managers ensure that future staffing needs are identified and tracked through an ongoing workforce planning process. This planning process includes a knowledge loss risk assessment that identifies knowledge that is critical to the organization’s mission and that may be lost in the near future.

2. Succession plans are in place for key corporate and plant positions. The plans include rotational assignments, project assignments and other means to develop the key staff for advancement. A profile defining the competencies needed for key jobs is established and used to identify candidates for leadership positions and to guide their development.

3. Candidates for leadership positions are developed through training and are given assignments in a variety of positions within the organization. On an ongoing basis, senior nuclear managers assess the progress of individuals identified as having management and leadership potential and their readiness for future management positions.

4. Human resource personnel work as a team with line managers to anticipate personnel needs and recruit to ensure sufficient staffing of knowledgeable and skilled personnel.

Motivation for nuclear knowledge management programs

Nuclear knowledge has been being developed and accumulated over literally centuries of research and application of nuclear technologies for both energy and non-energy applications. Our present generation is the owner and custodian of that body of nuclear knowledge. Most certainly, large parts of this knowledge will be used in the future – not only for the continuation of existing applications, but also for future technological innovations and for global socio-economic development. Unfortunately, the present status of the management of nuclear knowledge generally reflects an unhealthy condition. Since nuclear knowledge is unique in many ways, managing it properly requires programmes designed to achieve specific objectives. Without diligence in managing such knowledge, substantial portions of it could be lost due to personnel retirements and the likelihood that much of it could be disused or discarded as a result of either negligence or changing priorities.

Concerns about global climate change and the availability of economically exploitable fossil fuels are driving many countries to reconsider the use of nuclear energy in a significant way. If nuclear power is to become a major long-term source of energy – compatible with environmental stewardship – the international scale-up in developing new nuclear power plants could well be quite substantial. Yet, the innovations required to design, construct, operate and maintain the NPPs consistent with international needs and constraints must derive from a strong foundation of well-sustained nuclear knowledge. As a matter of fact, a successful renaissance of nuclear power will be virtually impossible without continual safety, security and innovation on a universal basis. And, to succeed in that quest will require effective KM systems that can be used to facilitate the availability and appropriate sharing of nuclear knowledge for application, research and development.

The inherently dual nature of nuclear technology necessarily places some constraints on the free sharing of nuclear knowledge. In contrast to knowledge in other scientific domains, the free sharing and uncontrolled use of nuclear knowledge are severely restricted due to concerns about nuclear security and proliferation. On the other hand, ensuring nuclear safety requires free sharing of information and experience to avoid repetition of accident precursors. The risk to nuclear safety from the loss of nuclear knowledge could be very high due to the nature and size of third party liability and the possibility of nuclear security being severely compromised. Therefore, an appropriate balance between nuclear safety and security requirements needs to be established in managing nuclear knowledge.

The application of nuclear technology to areas such as are enumerated in the first session of the article has resulted in an immense array of humanitarian benefits in many nations – sometimes resulting in positive economic impacts even larger than those derived from the generation of electricity by NPPs. Such applications tend to be less controversial than nuclear power; and, therefore, they generally enjoy a much more favorable public perception. Knowledge in these areas is broadly disseminated and – in many cases – is freely shared. Given the huge potential for a much wider global impact, it will be essential to have more effective and efficient systems of managing nuclear knowledge as the basis for refining existing applications and developing new, even more widely-used applications.

To heighten the challenges presented by the need for better KM systems, it will be as important to identify and properly treat obsolete, superseded knowledge as it will be to gather and share new knowledge. Ironically, the potential problems associated with ‘nuclear knowledge waste’ may equal or eclipse those related to ‘nuclear material waste’. Furthermore, the volume and rate of change of nuclear knowledge will be huge. Thus, of necessity, effective and efficient KM systems must be maintained current and dynamic.

Alignment of a knowledge management program with the strategic plans of a given organization

Among the several recommendations stated in IAEA Technical Reports [8] are the following: [The NTF]

  • Should identify the organization’s information needs
  • Should identify and access internal and external sources of information
  • Should convert information to knowledge of use to the organization
  • Should use the data, information and knowledge to set and meet the

organization’s strategies and objectives
The implementation of each of these recommendations – particularly the fourth one – would virtually assure an alignment of a NTF’s KM program with its strategic plans. But, even if there were no such recommendations, common sense should dictate that the information needed to develop, implement, and evaluate strategic plans and objectives of an organization would require the gathering, monitoring and interpreting of data that would then be converted to information and, subsequently, into knowledge. Conversely, as organizations design, develop and implement KM initiatives, it only stands to reason that the purposes of such initiatives would be consistent with the goals and objectives – the plans – of the NTF. Therefore, regardless of the perspective from which these two highly desirable organizational tools – strategic plans and KM systems – are viewed, the use of good business practices in each undertaking should result in their being aligned and complementary. Were there to be circumstances resulting in a mis-alignment of these two performance tools, there would quite probably be such a high level of ‘organizational cognitive dissonance’ that attention would be drawn to the situation.
The following paragraphs provide experiences regarding NPP operating organizations’ (or, NTF organizational) strategies and policies related to KM. A separate paragraph is provided for each noted practice. The good practice is stated and is followed by a brief description. In some cases, there are references to an appendix or related publications for additional details or examples. Top-level policies and associated procedures provide an integrated strategy and implementing approach for KM, including identification of roles and responsibilities of an accountable manager for KM. This KM strategy is linked to the organization’s business plan such that KM is used as a tool for continuous improvement in the organization’s performance.

1. A communications strategy is in place that supports the organization’s vision, mission and change initiatives by identifying strategies, objectives, and tactics for communicating with key stakeholders. This strategy should include communications related to the value and importance of KM to the organization. Senior corporate and plant managers, through their personal involvement, foster open communications; upward, downward and horizontally.

2. A workforce planning strategy has been developed to ensure that staffing needs for the life of the organization are identified and tracked. This strategy addresses areas such as risks associated with losing mission critical knowledge, succession planning and developing leaders and managers. Workforce planning is a continuous process that ensures an organization has the right numbers of people in the right jobs at the right time, with the right qualifications. A typical workforce planning approach is as follows:

  • Set strategic direction;
  • Analyze workforce, identify skill gaps and conduct workforce analysis;
  • Develop action plan;
  • Implement action plan;
  • Monitor, evaluate and revise.

3. A human performance improvement programme has been established to continually identify opportunities to improve plant performance and expand the knowledge of the organization, particularly for those activities related to safe and reliable plant operation. In the USA, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) has a comprehensive human performance program which has its principal focus on error prevention techniques. Through the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), these techniques are being transferred to NPP operating organizations around the world. Reference [9] provides information regarding human performance improvement approaches in a number of NPP operating organizations, while Reference [10] provides examples of human performance improvement programmes in other industries. These approaches have potential application in NPP operating organizations and other NTFs.

4. Strategies for knowledge transfer and retention are developed and implemented to preserve unique knowledge and skills that could be lost through attrition or planned staffing changes. One of the most pressing issues currently facing NPP operating organizations in this regard is the large number of personnel who have already or soon will retire. Reference [11] provides information regarding how this issue is being addressed in some Member States.

5. An effective process is established that clearly defines expectations for procedure use taking into account the complexity of tasks, the skill and training of plant personnel, the extent of supervisory involvement, and the potential consequences of improper performance. Reference [12] provides examples of methods that NPP operating organizations have used in this regard. It is suggested that a graded approach be taken regarding expectations for procedure use in order to ensure that procedural compliance does not become rote compliance with rules to the exclusion of a thoughtful, questioning attitude – one willing to stop if in doubt. While KM is intended to lead to better decisions, those decisions must still be conservative in nature insofar as any aspect of nuclear safety is concerned. Remember, that is the main purpose of having an integrated management system.

6. The culture of the organization promotes the transfer of knowledge, particularly tacit knowledge among plant personnel. Evidence of this culture is seen through:

  • managers serving as role models for others to emulate regarding knowledge

transfer; and

  • mutual trust existing between managers and the workforce, including trade

unions, if applicable.
Methods are in place to periodically assess the status of this culture. The transfer of tacit knowledge needs to be done on a person-to-person basis. Thus the success of tacit knowledge transfer depends a great deal on the extent to which the organization’s culture encourages such transfer and on being aware of cultural barriers in the organization that discourage knowledge transfer. For example, does the organization reward employees based upon their being the sole source of critical knowledge and information; or, does it reward employees for sharing their knowledge and information widely?

7. Managers are personally involved in ensuring that the KM program is developed, implemented, continuously improved and integrated with the organization’s overall management system. One example of this involvement is that managers feel accountable for the training, qualification, and performance of their personnel. A strategy should be developed to reward and recognize people for their contributions to growing the knowledge assets of the organization.

8. Benchmarking is an established policy to transfer knowledge, improve performance, and emulate best industry practices. Identification and correction of problems and use of operating experience, benchmarking, and self-assessment should be integral to the organization’s culture.

9. A continuous learning environment has been created in which managers encourage employees to continually improve individual and station performance. Such techniques range from the most basic communication of expectations to the employment of advanced, user-friendly electronic technology.

It is also extremely critical for there to be a ‘line-of-sight’ that runs from the performance objectives for individual employees through the goals and objectives of organizational units – such as sections, departments and divisions – up to and including the goals and objectives of the entire organization. Individual employees should understand how their respective accountabilities relate to those of other individuals in their areas, the respective organizational units, and the entire organization. And, all employees should identify and be committed to the organization’s vision and mission. Each person should be made to feel that his or her contribution makes a significant difference to the overall effort. This kind of knowledge sharing can contribute enormously towards creating a positive culture.


  1. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency, Knowledge Management for Nuclear Industry Operating Organizations – IAEA TECDOC Series No.1510, October 2006
  2. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency, Recruitment, Qualification and Training of Personnel for Nuclear Power Plants Safety Guide, IAEA Safety Standards Series No. NS-G-2.8, Vienna, 2002
  3. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency, Nuclear Power Plant Personnel Training and its Evaluation A Guidebook, IAEA Technical Reports Series No. 380, Vienna, 1996
  4. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency, Experience in the Use of Systematic Approach to Training (SAT) for Nuclear Power Plant Personnel, IAEA-TECDOC Series No. 1057, Vienna, 1998
  5. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency, Experience in the Use of Systematic Approach to Training (SAT) for Nuclear Power Plant Personnel, IAEA-TECDOC Series No. 1057, Vienna, 1998
  6. ^ An IAEA TECDOC on the development and use of competency-based tests for nuclear industry personnel was published in 2006 INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, Competency Assessments for Nuclear Industry Personnel, IAEA STI/PUB/1236, Vienna (2006)
  7. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency, Nuclear Power Plant Personnel Training and its Evaluation A Guidebook, IAEA Technical Reports Series No. 380, Vienna, 1996
  8. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency, Nuclear Power Plant Personnel Training and its Evaluation A Guidebook, IAEA Technical Reports Series No. 380, Vienna, 1996
  9. ^ INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, A Systematic Approach to Human Performance Improvement in Nuclear Power Plants: Training Solutions, IAEA-TECDOC-1204, IAEA, Vienna (2001)
  10. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency, Human Performance Improvement in Organizations: Potential Applications in the Nuclear Industry, IAEA-TECDOC Series No. 1479, Vienna, 2005
  11. ^ INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, The Nuclear Power Industry’s Ageing Workforce: Transfer of Knowledge to the Next Generation, IAEA-TECDOC-1399, IAEA, Vienna (2004).
  12. ^ INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, Good Practices with Respect to the Development and Use of Nuclear Power Plant Procedures, IAEA-TECDOC-1058, IAEA, Vienna (1998)

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