More nukes

Jun 11, 2004

I stand in awe of readers who are responsible for plants that run 24/7/365, supplying an essential product that is often immediately consumed. Downtime in power plants, refineries and chemical plants costs on the order of $1,000 per minute, so any unplanned shutdown is a code-red situation. And the consequences of imperfect maintenance , power outage, fire, explosion, chemical or radioactive release , can make the evening news or even the history books.

 I take a special interest in nuclear power because I minored in nuclear engineering, studied the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl incidents, and, living near Chicago, I use the stuff. As demand for electricity rises, the U.S. power industry is extending the operating terms of existing plants and appears about to break out of its long moratorium on new construction.
 Now, don't get the impression I'm complacent about nuclear power. Like a stick of dynamite, a fast motorcycle or a pit bull, a nuke plant is a powerful friend that can turn on you in an instant. So I am always looking for reasons to doubt their reliability.

In the early days, a lack of consensus on how a plant should be designed, built and operated let the industry see by its mistakes which engineers and operators had gotten what details right. In recent years, that knowledge and the results of current best practices have been distilled by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) into the Standard Nuclear Performance Model (SNPM). The result, which we are all enjoying, is the 103 U.S. nuclear plants are operating more safely and closer to capacity than ever.

NEI is now working on supporting the SNPM with asset-management tools ranging from lifecycle management (LCM) to risk-informed reliability calculations. It estimates that these uniform procedures will save the average nuke plant half a million dollars on LCM implementation and more than that per year on avoided lost production and associated remedial costs.

 Implementing anything in a nuclear plant involves a lot of paperwork. Regulatory compliance was by far the largest cost of building a plant, and the overhead continues as every aspect of the plant has to be certified and documented exhaustively throughout its life.

 Good software can help minimize compliance costs, so I am impressed by a recent announcement by MRO Software that it has developed a version of its CMMS/
EAM software with the functionality to support the SNPM. With Maximo Nuclear, plants have another choice in a market thus far largely dominated by Indus.

 Standardizing and reducing the cost of running nuclear plants not only gives us a shot at safer, less expensive power; we may all gain from having more CMMS/EAM software companies that know how to do it right.

E-mail Paul Studebaker at pstudebaker@putman.net.
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