The Specificity of Metacognition in Nuclear Process Control: Results from a Full-Scope Nuclear Power Plant Simulator Experiment

Demas, Matthew, Systems Engineering - School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Barnes, Laura, Department of Systems and Information Engineering, University of Virginia
Lau, Nathan, Grado Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech

Nuclear power has been identified as an important energy source to meet carbon emissions goals set by the U.S. EPA. To continue power generation, the vast majority of nuclear plants are currently in the process of license renewal to extend operations. Consequently, modernization projects upgrading analog to digital system components are common and integrated system validation (ISV) of the control room demonstrating continued safe plant operation is necessary. Human performance represents an essential component in ensuring the safety of a nuclear power plant, and, as a result its measurement is mandated in ISV evaluations. The literature focuses significantly on individual human performance measures, but few representative empirical studies examine the psychometric properties of multiple measures in an integrated fashion. Furthermore, the literature lacks studies in industrial settings evaluating the specificity of operator metacognition. This thesis presents an empirical experiment employing a full-scope nuclear power plant simulator and recently retired operators to advance human performance measurements. The experiment evaluated the impact of scenario difficulty on workload (the Halden Task Complexity scale), expert-rated task performance (OPAS), self-rated task performance, and situation awareness (the Process Overview Measure). Further, relationships between externally verifiable measures and self-assessments provided the basis for evaluating the specificity of operator metacognition. Based on their correlations with scenario difficulty, Halden Task Complexity, OPAS, and self-rated task performance measures demonstrated basic sensitivity and validity. However, the Process Overview Measure did not correlate with scenario difficulty or other performance measures. Additionally, the results on the specificity of metacognition indicate that operators are capable of distinguishing between different aspects of their performance—overall task performance and situation awareness. The experimental method and results contribute to methodological practice and provide empirical evidence on human performance assessment for the nuclear domain.

MS (Master of Science)
Human-in-the-Loop Simulation, Nuclear Power, Metacognition, Human Factors, Integrated System Validation
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