Systemic thinking in support of safety management in nuclear power plants

Björn Wahlström

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Systemic thinking is proposed to be applied within safety management. In the article I discuss benefits and content of systemic thinking in connection to safety. Systemic thinking has to do with creating an understanding of systems in an environment. How can macro behaviour be understood as generated by micro interactions of its parts? The article places a focus on nuclear power in Finland, because it avoids dangers of being too abstract. An application of safety principles during design and operation makes it possible to reach acceptable safety and avoid open ended discussions. A definition of necessary and sufficient requirements for safety condensed into claims and evidence can be collected from systems design and operation. The article starts with an account of concepts from systemic thinking and safety management, to discuss how sociotechnical models can be used. A separation between humans, technology, organisation and information provides a system of systems model of the plant. Using this model one may consider safe and dangerous regions of the plant state space. A proper management of design and operation makes it possible to argue that used practices provide mechanisms for early detection and correction of deficiencies in plant systems. Important components are management systems, decision support, performance evaluation, organisational learning, staff proficiency and stakeholders. In the discussion part of the article remaining challenges in ensuring safety are brought forward. The article concludes that systemic thinking and a simultaneous consideration of entirety and details are important components in ensuring nuclear safety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-218
Number of pages18
JournalSafety Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Decision making
  • Nuclear power
  • Organisational deficiencies
  • Safety management
  • Systemic thinking
  • Systems intelligence

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