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Managing Tolerable Risk: A Case Study of Commemoration of Mishaps in the Training Function of a Nuclear Power Station Open Access

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This study explored the memory work of organizational mishaps in one nuclear power station so as to understand the collective memory of significant organizational mishaps among its members. Grounded in sociological constructs, this study borrowed from Zerubavel (1993), who discussed the mental horizons that define our sociomental foundations in which we determine what past events are relevant to the present and what is not, and from Schwartz (1982), who approached collective memory by analyzing how the memory of past events is preserved through commemoration. Using this cognitive sociological commemorative lens, this qualitative study sought to explore how operating experience of significant organizational mishaps was commemorated in the training function of one nuclear power station. Prolonged engagement at the site provided data gathered through ethnographic field work, including observations, in-depth interviews, and document analysis. Findings demonstrated that the operating experience of significant organizational mishaps was commemorated in various formats. Nuclear power industry accidents and mishaps like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Davis-Besse, and Fukushima were perceived as providing the greatest lessons learned, and the industry’s self-regulator, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, exerted great control over the memory work at this nuclear power station. However, knowledge of the causes of major industry mishaps, and knowledge of lessons learned from mishaps, varied among nuclear training instructors. Results of this study have implications for both theory and practice. This study informs the literature on collective memory and commemoration by exploring memory work in the training function of a highly complex organization using high-risk technology. This study informs practice in organizational learning, training, and memory work in organizations.

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