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Sizewell nuclear plant reactor dome and other buildings with steam

How drawing digital insights from nuclear’s past can create a safer industry.

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, many new nuclear programmes were delayed or repealed. Governments globally instigated broad-brush policy changes while also conducting substantial safety reviews and nuclear power plant modifications.

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011, many new nuclear programmes were delayed or significantly repealed. Governments globally, and particularly those in Western Europe, instigated broad-brush policy changes while also conducting substantial safety reviews and nuclear power plant modifications. As a result, the expected construction of new generation fell.

Over the preceding years, the World Association of Nuclear Operators initiated the roll-out of 12 projects which saw 460 commercial power stations complete approximately 6,000 safety enhancement activities. As well as improving the overall margin of nuclear safety, the projects create new insights for managers across functions.

As we look to the 2020s, new nuclear programmes are re-emerging. With the need to meet growing energy consumption demands, China and India are key growth markets. By 2040, $1.1 trillion dollars of new nuclear plants are forecast to be built and China and India will account for 93% of the net production increase. Should China realise its medium-term targets, it will overtake the USA in terms of capacity by 2030.

For both countries, safety remains paramount, but this new tranche of nuclear generation also represents an opportunity to bring about an enhanced image of nuclear safety. The digitalisation of much of today’s energy industry is one aspect that has created widespread change in the intervening years since 2011. It’s also a change that could have a positive impact on the build of these forthcoming plants. Gaining insight, and indeed sharing and integrating lessons to reduce risk, has become much more straightforward compared to 10, five or even two years ago.

The digitalisation of plant designs is one area of risk assessment that can now be completed automatically. The latest technologies consider more than just schematics and equations, much to the benefit of this new era of nuclear.

Lloyd’s Register’s digital platforms encapsulate a deep sector knowledge that can only be gained through a great number of years of nuclear operation experience. But more than that, this data can be combined with international best practice, site-specific data and even an engineer’s own experience. Combined together, these layers of data unlock an unprecedented level of insight and analysis. This replaces the many analyst hours, even days, it would have taken on previous builds to hand draw fault trees or run simulations etc.

Digital technologies also benefit the industry by dissipating some of the ‘mystique’ behind risk assessment. For many years, risk assessment required a high-level of abstraction and an elite team of analysts fully immersed in the ways of every single component and their failure profiles. A heady task for any risk analyst, but one made doubly hard by the exacting requirements of nuclear. Instead, the digitalisation of the process has encapsulated this innate knowledge and granted the everyday engineer access to its insights. You no longer need to be a mathematical genius to run a reliability or risk analysis.

With digitalisation, the future of nuclear does not need to look like the past. New platforms mean ever enhancing safety and risk assessment standards and practices at every step, from design through decommissioning. Indeed, the latest innovations bring to market a new generation of tools – tools so customisable that they are, in essence, tools to make tools. As with many digital innovations, platforms like these make available a depth of analysis that was simply not humanly possible before.

For nuclear, a new era dawns. With digitalisation in its corner, the industry is poised to shed its tainted image of the past.

*This article first appeared in Power Engineering in January 2020.

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