Date of Award

Winter 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Management & Systems Engineering

Committee Director

Adrian Gheorghe

Committee Member

Pilar Pazos

Committee Member

Charles Daniels

Committee Member

Cuno Künzler

Committee Member

Ross Anderson


Nuclear power plants are among the most technologically complex of all energy facilities. This complexity reflects the precision needed in design, maintenance and operations to harness the energy of the atom safely, reliably and economically. Nuclear energy thus requires consistent, high levels of organizational performance by the highly skilled professionals who operate and maintain nuclear power plants (Nuclear Energy Institute [NEI], 2014, p. 1).

A key element for achieving consistent, high levels of performance in a nuclear organization is its safety culture. Nuclear safety culture is for an organization what character and personality is for an individual: a feature that is made visible primarily through behaviors and espoused values. Nuclear safety culture is undergoing constant change. It represents the collective behaviors of the organization, which change as the organization and its members change and apply themselves to their daily activities. As problems arise, the organization learns from them. Successes and failures become ingrained in the organization’s nuclear safety culture and form the basis on which the organization conducts business. These behaviors are taught to new members of the organization as the correct way to perceive, think, act and feel (NEI, 2014, p. 1).

Nuclear Safety Culture (NSC) is defined as the core values and behaviors resulting from a collective commitment by leaders and individuals to emphasize safety over competing goals to ensure protection of people and the environment (Institute of Nuclear Power Operations [INPO], 2012a, p. iv). Thus, nuclear safety culture depends on every employee, from the board of directors, to the control room operator, to the field technician in the switchyard, to the security officers and to contractors on site. That is, nuclear safety culture is affected by everything we say and everything we do. Nuclear safety is a collective responsibility meaning no one in the organization is exempt from the obligation to ensure nuclear safety first (NEI, 2014, p. 1).

Furthermore, NSC is a leadership responsibility. Leaders reinforce safety culture at every opportunity so that the health of safety culture is not taken for granted. Leaders frequently measure the health of safety culture with a focus on trends rather than absolute values. Leaders communicate what constitutes a healthy safety culture and ensure everyone understands his or her role in its promotion. Leaders recognize that safety culture is not all or nothing but is, rather, constantly moving along a continuum. As a result, there is a comfort in discussing safety culture within the organization as well as with outside groups, such as regulatory agencies (INPO, 2012a). That is, NSC like everything else rises and falls based on leadership (Maxwell, 1998).

In order to facilitate a healthy NSC, which is the sine qua non of safe nuclear plant operation, the leadership team needs to understand its present health in order to address NSC issues. It has been said “To manage risk, one has first to comprehend it” (Gheorghe, 2005, p. xvii). Equally true, in order to manage the nuclear safety culture of an organization we must first comprehend it.

The goal of this research is to provide an ongoing holistic, objective, transparent and safety-focused process to identify early indications of potential problems linked to culture. The process uses a cross-section of available data (e.g., the corrective action program, performance trends, NRC inspections, industry evaluations, nuclear safety culture assessments, self-assessments, audits, operating experience, workforce issues and employee concerns program and other process inputs). These data are then analyzed utilizing Multiple-criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) methodology that incorporates belief degrees of the management team leading to insights about its meaning which may lead directly to corrective actions.