Nuclear Power Plant Operators Need A Different Approach When Training

Although its use is widespread, many people still have fears regarding the use of atomic energy as a means to generate electricity. They harbour concerns about the disposal of radioactive waste, and incidents such as those at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima have done little to inspire their confidence. However, control and containment technology is well understood. Suppose nuclear power plant training is as thorough as possible. In that case, a controlled fission reaction is likely to remain the most eco-friendly option for large-scale carbon-free electricity generation, at least until alternative green technologies can equal or exceed its output.

It’s easy to understand that any teaching techniques that involve confronting a rookie operator with a set of complex control panels and expecting him or her to execute a trainer’s verbal instructions might cause public alarm. Fortunately, this is no longer necessary as there are now safer and more effective ways to conduct nuclear power plant training.

For example, where the norm may be to train new operatives on the job, it can be helpful to both the trainer and trainees for the latter to view an instructional video of each of the various actions required. A well-produced video provides trainees with the freedom to learn at their own pace, repeating sections where necessary until they are confident that they have fully understood the steps involved. When armed with that audio-visual experience, a learner will be better prepared to perform the task under the close supervision of the instructor.

In practice,nuclear power plant training has much in common with that required by operators in conventional coal, oil or gas-fired plants. They all operate by boiling water to produce the steam that, under pressure, drives a turbine that supplies the mechanical energy for a generator to convert into electrical energy. The main differences lie in the type of fuel used and whether the heat to boil the water results from combustion or atomic fission. 

However, nuclear power plant training, like instruction in any practical field, can be made even more effective by the simple act of incorporating motor activities into the audio-visual experience. Despite many people’s fear of flying, it remains the safest means of transport, accounting for less than 1 per cent of the fatalities that result from motor vehicle accidents each year. That safety record is only partly the result of exceptional engineering. In practice, most aircraft accidents are due to pilot error, and simulated flight training is the reason these are rare.

Whether using a simulator for nuclearor conventionalpower plant training, the trainee operator can achieve more than merely learning which buttons or dials to operate when performing a given task. More significantly, the learner will also receive visual and audible feedback. The simulation will enable students to witness the results of their actions and the potential consequences these might have in the live working environment. In a simulated setup, mistakes are not a danger. Instead, they are a powerful learning opportunity. 

In the real world, one does not always have the chance to correct a mistake without having to face the consequence, even if it’s only a reprimand. However, when conducting nuclear power plant training with a simulator, trainees are free and actively encouraged to learn from their mistakes. They can repeat any tasks they may have difficulty with repeatedly until they can perform them flawlessly every time. The resulting heightened state of preparedness and increased confidence will enable the learner to perform routine and mission-critical tasks and respond to any possible emergency that may arise when it is time for them to work unsupervised.

When creating a simulation suitable for nuclear power plant training, it is necessary to distinguish between the various types of reactors. Although several additional types exist, the high-temperature gas and pressurised water reactors (PWR) are the most widely used and, to date, both Koeberg 1 and 2, the only currently operational plants in South Africa, employ the latter PWR technology.

SimGenics is an acknowledged leader in the design of simulated learning environments for the electricity generating industry and others, including mining, petrochemicals and desalination. The company offers a range of sophisticated software packages that enable clients to develop nuclear power plant training simulations in house. Alternatively, the company can supply generic or create bespoke simulations to meet any client requirements.

Contact us today for more information regarding our training simulations.

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