Engineering thinking in emergency situations: A new nuclear safety concept

By F. Guarnieri, S. Travadel, November 1, 2014

The lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident have focused on preventive measures designed to protect nuclear reactors, and crisis management plans. Although there is still no end in sight to the accident that occurred on March 11, 2011, how engineers have handled the aftermath offers new insight into the capacity of organizations to adapt in situations that far exceed the scope of safety standards based on probabilistic risk assessment and on the comprehensive identification of disaster scenarios. Ongoing crises in which conventional resources are lacking, but societal expectations are high, call for "engineering thinking in emergency situations." This is a new concept that emphasizes adaptability and resilience within organizations—such as the ability to create temporary new organizational structures; to quickly switch from a normal state to an innovative mode; and to integrate a social dimension into engineering activities. In the future, nuclear safety oversight authorities should assess the ability of plant operators to create and implement effective engineering strategies on the fly, and should require that operators demonstrate the capability for resilience in the aftermath of an accident.

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