July 8, 2009

Nuclear Power (and Knowledge Management)

Yesterday, I had the incredible opportunity to tour the PSEG nuclear power facility in Salem County, NJ, the second-largest nuclear campus in America. It was a great experience: I pressed buttons in the simulator room! I walked among the turbines and the generators of the Salem I reactor! I looked through a temperature scope used to spot infiltrators! My overall impression is that it is a highly secure, extremely well-run facility, staffed by extremely smart, exceedingly well-trained professionals, with a deep commitment to safety and community. Having had the experience of touring the facility and meeting the staff, I will certainly be more, and differently, engaged in future discussions about nuclear power.

I am also left with questions about the staff's preferred sense of balance between self-policing and oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And, with many questions about nuclear waste, reprocessing, and the responsibilities of privately run nuclear facilities for disposal and reuse.

Here are some reflections on communications from staff, their use of knowledge management techniques and rhetoric, and some facts I gleaned:
  • The first speaker commences by pointing out the osprey that live on the transformer wires right outside the facility, setting a pleasant frame of natural beauty. (The facility is in a bucolic setting of wetlands, cornfields, and grazing pastures.)
  • 50.5 % of all electricity generated in NJ comes from nuclear energy! This compares to 19.4% nationwide. (Texas, fyi, generates 25% of their power through wind.)
  • In the last 10 years, electricity use in NJ has grown by 25%. Much of this is due to large, flat screens TVs.
  • Preferred term for nuclear energy: "Clean Central Station Power".

William Levis, the President and COO of PSEG Power, is a gifted narrative leader, using story to motivate, teach, and lead. He opened his remarks by reflecting on how, in 1973, his after high school activities were cancelled due to the energy shortage, and his senior prom was almost cancelled. And then, during the second energy crisis of the '70s, he slowly drove from PA to ID, to his first Naval assignment, buying only the allotted 8 gallons of gas at a time. These experiences, he said, motivated him to work in energy. A terrific example of how to connect with and establish trust with listeners.

In response to my question about sharing knowledge between an older generation of highly experienced staff and a younger generation of new employees, Bill said they employ a rigorous program of knowledge transfer:

First, they go through a program to determine critical knowledge.
Then, knowledge is transferred in three ways:
  1. Through painstakingly detailed procedures and protocols
  2. Through extensive training (for instance, every six weeks, nuclear operators spend 2 full weeks training in the simulator)
  3. Through the quality of management supervision. This includes the sharing of Bill's poignant story about visiting Chernobyl.

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