IAEA Publication: Knowledge Loss Risk Management in Nuclear Organisations


BEIS has issued a Ministerial Statement to both houses of Parliament (Commons and Lords) with regard to policy in the light of leaving euratom. It proposes a twofold approach of (1) “negotiations with the European Commission to seek a close association with Euratom and to include Euratom in any implementation period negotiated as part of our wider exit discussions”; and (2) “to put in place all the necessary measures to ensure that the UK could operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one.

IAEA Risk cover

It might do well to read a recent publication from IAEA Knowledge Loss Risk Management in Nuclear Organisations. This sees challenges resulting from an aging workforce, an industry that runs plant for several decades with different skill sets being required for design, build, operate and decommission stages leading to changing workforce and management. The long duration of nuclear projects also results in issues of technology obsolescence and the need for the introduction of new skills such as cyber security. In the UK we can add the risks posed by the free market “policy” that is resulting in a series of very different prototypes being built or proposed.

This is an issue that should concern BEIS because, of course, the average tenure of a civil servant in a particular influential post is very short compared to the nuclear project duration. They need to ensure that they maintain the knowledge, skills and systems to understand what the NDA, operators, ONR, the environment agencies have been tasked to do and how well or badly they are doing it.

The IAEA document seeks to increase awareness among nuclear organisation managers of the need for a strategic approach and actions plans to identify and manage the risks of individual and organisational knowledge loss.

The IAEA projections show the number of nuclear reactors operating in the world rising, with most of the growth in countries that already have a nuclear industry. Within this picture reactors are retiring and will take experienced resource to decommission them. An even greater cause of need for new recruits is expected to be the loss of skilled and experienced workers to retirement, internal transfer or promotion, or resignation. One scenario for the USA shows 19,000 new positions and 63,000 new hires by 2030.

The IAEA propose a Strategic Workforce Planning system that is composed of a cycle of Workforce Analytics, Workforce development, Execution and Metrics and Business Unit Planning.

They call for a “Coherent intervention by governments, industry, universities and R&D organisations” to provide a feed line of skilled and competent workers.

In the UK the NDA fund R&D in the area of nuclear decommissioning to meet its obligations under the Energy Act “to promote and, where necessary, carry out research in relation to its primary function of decommissioning” and “to ensure that there is a skilled workforce available to undertake the work of decommissioning” (NDA University and Research Strategy). Various universities offer nuclear power material to undergraduates and postgraduates (For example: Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, and Cambridge). These have different levels of direct links to the industry and it is not entirely clear that the situation can be called a “strategy” or described as “coherent” but it does (presumably) provide a feed of skilled (but not experienced) youngsters for the industry.


Figure 1 Knowledge devlopment from IAEA NG-T-6.11

Figure 1 shows the IAEA view of the relationship between workforce planning and knowledge management. Those new to the industry are likely to spend some working, learning and training before becoming independent competent workers and then some further time before achieving recognition as an expert in their field. The art of knowledge transfer management is to ensure that, where an expert leaves for any reason while their skills are still needed, a suitable replacement is ready to take the post.

On the industry side, workforce planning is required Site Licence Conditions 12 and 36 (below). This leads to systems which identify key skills, suitably qualified and experienced personnel and succession management.


Licence Condition 12:

Duly authorised and other suitably qualified and experienced persons

1 The licensee shall make and implement adequate arrangements to ensure that only suitably qualified and experienced persons perform any duties which may affect the safety of operations on the site or any other duties assigned by or under these conditions or any arrangements required under these conditions.

2 The aforesaid arrangements shall also provide for the appointment, in appropriate cases, of duly authorised persons to control and supervise operations which may affect plant safety.

3 The licensee shall submit to ONR for approval such part or parts of the aforesaid arrangements as ONR may specify.

4 The licensee shall ensure that once approved no alteration or amendment is made to the approved arrangements unless ONR has approved such alteration or amendment.

5 The licensee shall ensure that no person continues to act as a duly authorised person if, in the opinion of ONR, he is unfit to act in that capacity and ONR has notified the licensee to that effect.



Licence Condition 36:

Organisational capability

1 The licensee shall provide and maintain adequate financial and human resources to ensure the safe operation of the licensed site.

2 Without prejudice to the requirements of paragraph 1, the licensee shall make and implement adequate arrangements to control any change to its organisational structure or resources which may affect safety.

3 The licensee shall submit to ONR for approval such part or parts of the aforesaid arrangements as ONR may specify.

4 The licensee shall ensure that once approved no alteration or amendment is made to the approved arrangements unless ONR has approved such alteration or amendment.

5 The aforesaid arrangements shall provide for the classification of changes to the organisational structure or resources according to their safety significance. The arrangements shall include a requirement for the provision of adequate documentation to justify the safety of any proposed change and shall where appropriate provide for the submission of such documentation to ONR.

6 The licensee shall if so directed by ONR halt the change to its organisational structure or resources and the licensee shall not recommence such change without the consent of ONR.

The IAEA recommend a knowledge management team and define a list of participating roles and stakeholders for a typical nuclear power plant and the team’s main functions. It then outlines an Organisational Competence Loss Risk Assessment methodology. Among other tools this suggest a risk matrix which lists the skills requirements in each area and maps who, within the organisation, has those skills. This leads to the identification of those areas at risk of knowledge loss and the development of an Action Plan to restore the situation.

Another tool assesses the skills and knowledge of any employee nearing retirement, promotion or otherwise likely to leave their current post and initiates an Action Plan if appropriate.

The remainder of the document provides tools, forms, guidance and case studies.


IAEA Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050

The IAEA have just published their Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050. These are obtained by looking at all nuclear power reactors in operation, in build and in planning across the world and making best estimate, pessimistic and optimistic estimates of the electricity they might be expected to generate up to 2050.

The highlights reported include:

  • There were 448 operational nuclear power reactors in the world at the end of 2016, with a total net installed power capacity of 391 GW(e).
  • An additional 61 units with a total capacity of 61 GW(e) were under construction.
  • During 2016, ten new nuclear power reactors with a total capacity of 9531 MW(e) were connected to the grid, and three reactors with a total capacity of 1405 MW(e) were retired.
  • In 2016, construction began on three new units that are expected to add a total capacity of 3014 MW(e).
  • Nuclear power accounted for about 11% of total electricity production in 2016.
  • Coal still leads as the major source for electricity generation across the world with natural gas growing.
  • Hydropower and renewables grew to 24.8% in 2016 compared to 11% nuclear electricity production.
  • World energy consumption is expected to increase by 18% by 2030 and by 39% by 2050, at an annual growth rate of about 1%.
  • More than half of the existing nuclear power reactors are over 30 years old and are scheduled to be retired in the coming years.


It is easier to scare than to reassure. The Shamisen project report

The EU-OPERA SHAMISEN project started in December 2015. One driver for this project was the realisation that existing recommendations on nuclear accident dose control had an almost exclusively technical focus which was directed towards the decision making process of experts while failing to consider the impact on the general populations. Both Chernobyl and Fukushima taught us that averting dose is only part of the process of protecting the public; social, ethical, psychological issues are as important, if not more so. What was needed was a set of recommendations that would contribute to health surveillance and related communication with affected populations after nuclear accidents.

The project has now reported (here). It presents a number of recommendations and, for each one, it briefly explains why they make the recommendation, how it can be satisfied and who should take the lead. This is a very good format for this type of document.

Of particular interest to me are:

R7 Build a radiation protection culture between radiation protection experts, healthcare workers, professionals and the general public. This is a very big ask. Radiation Protection is eye wateringly complex and it takes several hours to explain the basics to people with a good science education. The big questions are how are the healthcare workers going to find the time to listen and how are you going to convince the public that they need to devote the time and effort to learning. After an accident in their area I think we’d have their attention but not before. This is a laudable ambition, teaching materials can be written (indeed many good examples already exist) but after that there are no quick wins.

R8 Establish early response and communication protocols with responsibilities and roles clearly laid out. Engage relevant stakeholders in the establishment of these protocols, and prepare the necessary material and channels to communicate with the public (including social media). This is part of the preparedness phase. Much of this is already part of basic emergency plans. Off-site plans invariably list who should be alerted and define the roles and responsibilities of responders. Maybe more could be done to prepare information and discuss how it could be presented to the public on the day of an event and in the days and weeks following an event.

R10 Prepare and facilitate training and education material and resources adapted to healthcare and other professionals, as well as other stakeholders. This is another laudable ambition to pre-position healthcare, community leaders and teachers with suitable knowledge and teaching materials ready to step and inform and reassure the public if the worst happens. Again the problem is one of time and focus. Healthcare professionals have a lot of competing issues to consider as they strive to support the community health.

R13 Foster participation of stakeholders and communities by engaging them in emergency preparedness, including planning for socio-economic health surveillance and, where appropriate, epidemiology. Again the industry and the government already does a lot in this area with regular meetings with community groups and community group representation on multi-agency emergency planning meetings. This tends to be more about the arrangements to promulgate and alert and support early countermeasures rather than socio-economics and epidemiology. (Having said that health physics is a challenge to teach it must be recognised that it is relatively straightforward compared to epidemiology).

R14 Ensure prompt sharing of accurate and reliable information (e.g., plant conditions, radiation dose, radiation protection actions) between nuclear plant representatives, authorities, experts and the population. The paper has a great quote here; “it is easier to scare than to reassure”. Talking about the tendency of misinformation to quickly fill any gaps in communication it reports that “a recent study found that, during the Zika virus outbreak, the most popular social media health stories were the least accurate”. This isn’t a surprise but it does focus us on the reality of public communication – it is difficult. The authors conclude this section by saying that “the benefits of online information offer the public a unique opportunity to learn about nuclear power, which may outweigh the costs associated with “internet cacophony”.

I find the recommendation R18 Provide support to populations who wish to make their own measurements, recommending reliable equipment and resources (e.g., apps, social media, information centres) that can contribute to the characterisation of population exposure and its evolution a little hard to agree with. Radiation detection is relatively easy. Radiation measurement is quite difficult. Interpretation of radiation measurements in terms of harm is difficult. There could be benefits from providing groups of people immediately affected by the incident with a group EPD to give a quick assessment of their dose during the acute phase, and providing everyone who returns from evacuation with a personal TLD (collected and read by the authorities) to assess their doses systematically. But I would hesitate to encourage unskilled people to wield unfamiliar radiation monitors and use the results to affect their behaviour.

The recovery phase recommendations all have merit and consideration of this document should be included in any recovery phase planning effort.

What do we need to do better as a result of this advice?

I think that the idea of building up radiological protection knowledge capital prior to an event is sensible but difficult. Encouraging healthcare professions, community leaders and people the community might trust such as teachers is always going to struggle against competing calls on their time and attention. Given that other threats such as flu pandemic, other health scares and themes such as mental health, diet and obesity are more likely to impact they are more likely to take the training time of these people. The industry’s outreach and information programmes should continue.

Early response tools, such as briefing material, are often spoken about and nuclear operators tend to have trained Media Technical Briefers to explain the complexities of nuclear accidents and health implications on the day. A review to see if more can be done, particularly with emerging technology and communications channels, should be undertaken periodically.


This report is well thought out, well presented and valuable. It deserves to be read by nuclear emergency planners and those responders with responsibility for advising and supporting members of the public before, during and after an accident.

Heatwave plan for England

PHE and NHS England have issued new advice on planning for heatwaves (here).

The purpose of this heatwave plan is to reduce summer deaths and illness by raising public awareness and triggering actions in the NHS, public health, social care and other community and voluntary organisations to support people who have health, housing or economic circumstances that increase their vulnerability to heat.

It states a concern that periods of hot weather will become more common in the UK as climate change kicks in leading to increased deaths among several identified vulnerable groups and some infrastructure issues.

The Met. Office has a mechanism for promulgating alerts about forecasts of dangerous weather conditions and this is explained in the context of heatwaves and is linked to five levels of heatwave readiness.

We should be trying to make our public spaces, buildings and homes cooler by design, including tree planting and open water features. Cooling homes by appropriate shading and ventilation but also by choice of colours for curtains and roofs.

On the day we should be avoiding exercise in the midday sun, drinking plenty of water but less caffeine, wearing cool clothing and looking out for our neighbours.

It is a bit light on what employers can do to protect their workforce without sacrificing more productivity than required but, if they read the report, they’ll pick up some useful tips.

Strategic National Guidance: Decontamination of buildings after CBRN incident


This document states that it is important to have plans in place to manage the decontamination of the environment (built and natural) following a CBRN event or accident that spreads contamination. This is sensible at national levels but the report states that “The possibility of exposure to CBRN should be a key component of business continuity planning (BCP) in order to maximise resilience, safeguard life and property, and minimise operational disruption”.

This is taking things too far. Many Business Continuity Managers complain that they can’t get support for the maintenance of plans against things that might reasonably be expected to happen. I’m really not sure that we can expect companies and households to have CBRN decontamination plans.


How to survive a nuclear emergency now available in paperback

My book “How to survive a nuclear emergency” is now available in paperback and on kindle.

This book adds more detail and discussion to the advice given out by operators and local authorities around REPPIR sites (nuclear sites where exposure of the public due to an accident is reasonably foreseeable) in the UK.

Read a sample by clicking this link.


Buy on kindle.

Buy as paperback

Review – Managing the Unexpected in Decommissioning, IAEA Nuclear Energy Series No. NW-T-2.

nwt28IAEA Nuclear Energy Series No. NW-T-2.8

This document published in March 2016 discusses the surprises that can occur when decommissioning nuclear facilities. It claims to be a good practice guide with expert opinion rather than recommendations made on the consensus of member states.

It explains that nuclear plant, particularly those with a long history, are not always built as recorded. It warns that: “When the nature of a decommissioning project is found to be substantially different to that expected, it often results in unplanned work to investigate and redefine the nature of the project, which may introduce delays and cost overruns, and which has the potential to expose decommissioning staff to additional industrial hazards and unplanned exposure to radiation”. A good decommissioning plan would consider the worst case and be ready to respond accordingly, considering it reasonably foreseeable that additional radioactive sources or contamination might be found or that the plant uncovered might not match the plans exactly and be ready to modify work plans and to protect the workforce against new hazards.

The authors provide a number of examples including finding bolts that were fully welded in place rather than spot welded thus defeating the equipment made to remotely remove the bolts. Other notable issues have occurred when trying to decommission the services to a building and accidently affecting supplies to neighbouring buildings. The finding of unexpected radioactive material or other hazardous material such as asbestos is also not uncommon.

Careful reading of records and investigation of the plant is recommended to characterise the plant and the radioactive inventory as well as possible to minimise the risks of unexpected issues.

The paper discusses the managerial mechanisms that are required to cope with the unexpected and show parallels with emergency planning. These include the ability to stop work on projects while issues are investigated and plans revised and require that the organisation is flexible enough to provide the necessary resource in a timely manner. A good stakeholder engagement plan is required to ensure that communications with groups such as the regulators and the public are appropriate.

Interestingly the report does not mention the role of the site’s Nuclear Safety Committee (see Ref for an ONR description of the NSC) in scrutinising decommissioning plans, hearing reports on progress and the response to issues, and challenging the Company to do better. In the UK this is a key supervisory role.

Much of the report is given over to case studies which provide valuable insight into the experience already gained in decommissioning nuclear facilities.

The report concludes that “Unknowns in decommissioning cannot be eliminated, regardless of the efforts applied. This is especially the case in old facilities where documentation may have been lost or where modifications were carried out without updates to reports. As a result, when planning for decommissioning, it is prudent to assume that such problems will occur, and ensure that arrangements are in place to deal with them when they arise. This approach will not only improve the efficiency of the decommissioning project, but will also improve the safety of the operations”.

This report is well worth a read for anybody involved in the decommissioning of nuclear facilities including safety case engineers, project managers, team leaders, the emergency/contingency planning teams and the regulators.