Systems Management: Turkish Nuclear Energy Program - Onurcan Mısır


'It may turn out that [the space program's] most valuable spin-off of all will be human rather than technological: better knowledge of how to plan, coordinate, and monitor the multitudinous and varied activities of the organizations required to accomplish great undertakings.' Editorial in Science, November 1968.

Turkey is a country with tremendous energy demand, and nuclear energy is the most debated way to supply it. According to figures, it has the biggest energy demand growth rate among OECD countries. Even though it uses natural gas and electricity both in urban areas and production facilities, it lacks the necessary amount of natural resources to provide itself with energy. Being one of the largest buyers of energy in its region, it has legitimate economic and political concerns regarding energy security and feels the need to establish an energy mix. To achieve this, it recently made decisions to build nuclear power plants and started the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant construction process in Mersin with Russian cooperation. Even though the decision and construction process has helped raise many questions regarding safety and environmental issues in Turkish media and civil society, one of the most critical aspects of projects this big seems to be overlooked. That is the issue of 'Systems Management.'

The Japanese government has been rated among the top 30 countries globally on 'Control of Corruption' in recent years. However, investigations following the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident in 2011 have put clear evidence that the disaster had many man-made aspects. For example, following the New York Times report on the widespread process of "Amakudari" in the Japanese government, which allowed bureaucrats to take up positions at the companies they once oversaw when retired, several top officials were fired. These investigations have uncovered the very close relationship that the regulator has established for many years with Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO) which operates the plant using its former bureaucrats that landed on lucrative positions at TEPCO. These relationships led to a cut in the operational expenses that would increase the security of the facility. Associated Press exposed the business ties of 95 people currently working at three main nuclear regulatory institutions, 26 of them being clearly affiliated either with lobbying groups that promote nuclear power. AP also came across 24 former employees of those three regulatory institutions – 8 of whom had connections to privately owned nuclear industry or pro-nuclear groups. These employees, using their connections to both sides of the equilibrium, have impacted the decision-making and regulation processes negatively. The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) Chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa said, "It was a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response."

What looked like a human error was actually a systemic failure, for what is expected to function in a system are humans, ideas, and machines, in this exact order. In this case, humans malfunctioned, which led the whole system to collapse. Even though it occurred in a nuclear powerplant in this particular case, such failures are imminent in a world where each part of any system (social, political, economic, and technological) is interconnected with very close and thin lines. Luckily, the errors and malfunctions that many systems, such as Fukushima, have faced in the past would give us the correct definition of properly functioning systems management. There are certain lessons that should be learned to achieve a risk-free and tremendously beneficial Turkish nuclear energy program.

The first lesson should be that technological devices can't work properly unless there are enough competent people that have enough ideas to oversee these devices. What created the Fukushima disaster, as mentioned above, was the lack of emphasis on personnel selection, training, and education processes. On the other hand, the increased quality of individuals and their decisions can not be achieved merely by selecting the best engineers, and it can only be achieved if the system (humans, ideas, and machines) itself has the ability to correct its mistakes rapidly using a bottom-up approach. To guarantee this ability, everybody in such a large facility would need to understand as much about the plans and previous mistakes as possible, and the personnel selection should be made accordingly with no flaws. Maximum transparency and communication, horizontally as well as hierarchically, should be the goal between competent personnel whose standard deviation on different dimensions (IQ, willpower, management ability, metacognition, etc.) are as high as possible, and those who oversee and manage these facilities should not be exempted from such necessities. Obviously, there would be the need for competent leadership, but every part of the system can't be put to rest on this centralized rule. While central vision should, and would, define the most important goals and strategy, it would be vital that decentralization dominates operationally so that decisions are fast and unbureaucratic, especially in the event of a crisis. Projects this big must rely on every individual worker throughout the system and shouldn't depend on orders issued from above. However, there will be some orders to be issued; and all of these orders and plans should reach those at the bottom with crystal clarity.

This, in its most basic form, should be the way a nuclear powerplant and all big alike facilities are run. As the quote in the beginning suggests, the increased effectiveness would have significant impacts on Turkey's know-how on similar projects and even its economy as a whole. Such management would be expected to strengthen ties among top scientists, engineers, decision-makers, and universities, resulting in a massive benefit to the civilian high-technology economy. On the other hand, if all of these policies are not to be pursued simultaneously, the risks would be too high for such a fragile and potentially damaging sector.


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