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Across a series of simulator studies, we have observed that some nuclear power plant operator
crews struggle when faced with non-standard emergency scenarios (Halden Work Report 1121, 995, 981,
955, 915). This is not surprising, since simulator training often focuses on reliably executing
procedures, but may not adequately prepare crews for unexpected complications. When the
procedures no longer fit the situation, crews need to adapt by making an independent assessment
of the situation and developing an alternative strategy. The crew’s adaptive capacity depends on a
number of factors, including workload, complexity of the problem, operational culture (e.g.
organisational expectations on procedure adherence), process and procedure knowledge, crew
resource management, time pressure, and operator support systems.
In this experiment, our intention is not merely to document and understand performance
deficiencies, but to test a range of measures for reducing performance problems in these complex
situations. We therefore developed an experimental design with two independent variables, namely
Shift Technical Advisor (STA; available / unavailable), and support tools (available / unavailable),
resulting in 4 conditions. The support tools are a new large screen overview display with a focus on
safety, and a procedure overview tool that provides easy access to procedure backgrounds. Each
participating crew (6 Swedish and 6 from the U.S.) perform one scenario per condition.
Procedure support tool
Part of large screen display
We developed four emergency scenarios with added complications. In each scenario, strict
procedure adherence will not lead to optimal recovery. Instead, operators have to take knowledge-
based actions. Using the procedure backgrounds will help them develop the correct strategy.
Dependent variables include task performance measures (task completion; performance time;
errors), observer-rated process understanding, and self-rated task demands. In addition, we collect
eye tracking data, and for some crews record EEG and ECG to measure fatigue and workload.
While the data collection is still on-going, early indications show performance variability among the
crews; the effectiveness of the STA seems to depend on the degree of independence from the
crew; the procedure tool was used less than expected; process and procedure knowledge seem to
be critical factors for resilience; there were signs of fatigue as early as 45 minutes into the scenario,
and this may affect the crew’s problem solving; teamwork and communication seem to suffer as
fatigue increases. We also observed that the digital control room interface enabled new teamwork
practices that seem to boost both the reliability and resilience of emergency operation.
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