Few events occur today that reveal a completely new cause or failure mechanism. Although not clear during an event, most investigations find that internal or external industry operating experience (OE) was available which, if used effectively, could have prevented the event. In fact, a station manager provided the following comments concerning a recent event at his station:
“This event was preventable, had we correctly applied previous operating experience. Perhaps, because of the design basis of our system, we were too narrowly focused in the past when reviewing our plant for vulnerabilities. This illustrates why the best use of operating experience is to look for similarities that could apply to your plant, rather than for differences that should lead you to screen the experience out.”
Experience has shown that the use of operating experience does not always require a lot of resources. Continuous improvement requires more management and personnel commitment than resources.
IAEA Safety Standards Series No. SF-1, Fundamental Safety Principles: Safety Fundamentals  states the need for operating organizations to establish a programme for the collection and analysis of operating experience. Such a programme ensures that operating experience is taking into account, events important to safety are reviewed in depth; and lessons learned are disseminated to the staff of the plant and to relevant national and international organizations.
IAEA Safety Standards Series No. NS-R-2, Safety of Nuclear Power Plants: Operation  establishes in paragraph 2.22 that the operating organization “shall obtain and evaluate information on operating experience at other plants to derive lessons for its own operations” and in paragraph 2.25 that the plant management “shall maintain liaison as appropriate with the organizations (manufacturer, research organization, designer) involved in the design, with the aims of feeding back information on operating experience and obtaining advice, if necessary, in the event of equipment failures or abnormal events”.
IAEA Safety Standards Series No. NS-G-2.11, A System for the Feedback of Experience from Events in Nuclear Installations  states in paragraph 2.8 that “an effective system for the feedback of operational experience relating to safety should cover…dissemination and exchange of information, including by the use of international systems”.
Effective use of operating experience, both internal and external, requires analysis to identify fundamental weaknesses in the plant organization, equipment (structures, systems and components), procedures and human performance, and then identification of appropriate station specific corrective actions that will minimize the likelihood of similar events occurring at the station. Once the fundamental weaknesses are identified the OE must be disseminated in a timely manner both internally and externally and utilized in order to prevent recurrence of the problem.
Every nuclear utility/NPP has its own OE process. This OE process encompasses internal and external experience and is able to incorporate the consequent lesson learned, in order to enhance the operational performance of the plant. Figure 1 shows a flow chart of a typical OE process.