Operation with reduced number of operators is considered as an important operational mode to improve economics of a nuclear power plant (NPP) in the future and it will be more important for the small modular reactors (SMRs). To control NPPs efficiently and safely with a reduced number of operators, an intelligent operation system can be very useful. However, reduced number of operators will result in larger consequence in human error due to simultaneous multi-unit failures are now more probable than the conventional operational mode. Thus, to decrease the probability of human error occurrence for the reduced number of operators, the development of an autonomous operation system with certain level of intelligence is inevitable. The prediction capability of system's behavior as well as understanding the root cause for the current situation should be an essential function of the designed autonomous operation system. The authors propose to use the current system thermal-hydraulic (STH) analysis code platform to develop such intelligence. As a demonstration of the suggested method, the authors used the STH code to track the accident initiator of both large pressurized water reactor (PWR) and SMR. The discussions on how this method can be useful for future NPP operation and how generic differences in system design actually influence the system behavior are presented. (C) 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.