• Smart science drive down maintenance costs


    2.5-minute read

  • The nuclear industry is getting smarter with maintenance techniques, driving down costs and preventing expensive shutdowns due to equipment failure.



    Maintenance is big business. The World Nuclear Association says operation and maintenance accounts for about 66% of the total cost of running a nuclear power plant (NPP).


    Recent advances in science are creating new commercial opportunities.


    Predictive failure detection is one new technique that has found uses in the automotive and aerospace industries.


    Temperature or vibration detection, coupled with long-term monitoring, can give a benchmark for a working and fully functional system. Any subsequent readings that are outside the normal range can indicate a potential impending failure, allowing maintenance teams to act accordingly.


    Advanced analytics


    Researchers are now using advanced analytics programmes to increase the accuracy and shorten the duration of other reactor examinations.


    Flaw detection studies led by the US Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Purdue University have demonstrated results by using automated analytics technology, reports Nuclear Energy Insider.


    It says the normal practice of manually analysing data from materials inspections is time-consuming and subject to human error; staff have to work through hours of footage from automated inspection cameras to identify cracks before they become a safety concern.


    The automation of the data analysis removes human error and can provide a faster, more reliable detection capability.


    EPRI says it is currently researching automated data analysis processes for the non-destructive examination (NDE) of reactors and heat exchangers using remote visual, ultrasonic and tubing eddy current examinations.


    Robotic inspection tools


    Another area of development is robotic technology, which is increasingly being used as a reliable, cost-effective and low-risk way of checking for critical issues. For example, GE says its robotic inspection tools for generators reduces maintenance costs by as much as 60%.


    In the UK, a consortium of eight universities, led by University of Birmingham, recently secured £42m (US$59m) of new investment for a centre of excellence for nuclear robotics.


    While the focus of the new National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR) will be to develop technology for aiding radioactive waste management, its researchers will also develop robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) for maintenance of operating NPPs and the construction of new reactors.


    Robotic systems are needed for monitoring, maintenance and Plant Life Extension (PLEX) in the UK’s current fleet of operating nuclear power stations.


    The NCNR says robots will be an essential element in the design of new-build reactors to make complex operations, in hazardous environments, safer, faster and cheaper.

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