The Demand for Nuclear Power Operator Training Is Growing

Consumer demand for electricity has been increasing throughout the developed and developing countries and has led to a widespread need for additional generating capacity. In many parts of the world, including South Africa, the bulk of the electricity generated relies on the heat produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, mainly coal and diesel. In practice, more heat is produced by the fission of enriched uranium. Nuclear power stations, together with specialised operator training, offer a means to achieve that much-needed additional generating capacity.

Currently, there are only two operational nuclear reactors in South Africa, both at Koeberg in the Western Cape. Between them, they generate just 5% of the nation’s total output. They were built mainly to overcome the high cost and inconvenience of transporting fuel more than 1 500 kilometres from the nation’s coalfields in Mpumalanga. A proposed third site in the Eastern Cape has since been abandoned, but the government still plans to extend nuclear power, and so more operator training will be necessary.

In practice, the need is an ongoing one. Unfortunately, employees move on, and skilled workers, in particular, are often on the lookout for greener pastures, knowing they are in demand. Others may continue until retirement but will eventually depart, taking their valuable skills and experience with them. Between providing for proposed expansions and upgrades and compensating for the natural attrition among skilled personnel, the demand for nuclear power operating training is growing and seems likely to continue doing so.

The Production of Steam

In practice, whether employing fossil fuels or fissile material, the objective is to produce steam from water and use it to rotate the turbines that, in turn, will drive an electrical generator. For those engaged in the process, the aim is to control the production of steam to ensure that flow of power is continuous and at a level consistent with changing consumer demands. That is, of course, a much-simplified explanation as is easy to see from the many crucial tasks to be covered during a nuclear power operating training course. While operatives at coal- and diesel-fired generating plants have an equally demanding job, the control requirements and systems differ significantly, as do the necessary safety measures.

Safety

While safety is always a concern throughout the power industry, the potential consequences arising from an exploding boiler in a coal-fired plant would be far less damaging than those that could occur due to a core meltdown and loss of containment. The details that have emerged following the incident at Chernobyl underline the dangers of failing to provide adequate nuclear power operating training.

Professional Training

That said, how can one prepare plant personnel to deal with this type of emergency. They can read all about the necessary actions in textbooks or watch instructional videos, but these can never be an adequate substitute for hands-on-experience. When attempting to develop practical skills, learning needs to be at least as much a tactile experience as it is an audio-visual one, but preferably more so. That sounds logical enough, but how can nuclear power operating training provide practical hands-on experience of coping with emergencies when plant managers must take every precaution to avoid them? 

Surely nobody would choose to board a plane if they thought their pilot had learned to fly by committing the contents of the 747 instruction manual to memory and watching YouTube videos. In practice, many skilled practical tasks are now taught using realistic simulations similar to those used by trainee pilots. While a full flight simulator could cost $10 million, it’s unnecessary to recreate an entire control room for nuclear power operating training purposes. Though far more affordable, the sophisticated simulation software available for instructing plant operatives is every bit as effective. 

For the trainee, a well-designed computer simulation offers an experience similar to a video game adventure, but with an unlimited supply of lives and the option of a virtual instructor. As well as being free to practice routine activities like start-ups and shutdowns and coping with changing load demands, the system can also simulate common emergencies on demand. 

When given simulated nuclear power operating training, participants are free to continue repeating any action, including emergency measures, until they can perform it with their eye closed. When combined with classroom theory lessons, there is no safer or more effective way to produce competent plant operatives. Call SimGenics to learn how your plant and personnel could benefit from this innovative learning technology.

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