Ensuring Nuclear Power Plant Operators Perform Safely and Efficiently
Without viable alternatives, atomic fission remains the most sustainable energy source, but nuclear power plant operators must ensure safety and efficiency. There are still many people whose immediate reactions to any proposal to build new atomic power stations range from disbelief to complete shock and horror.
Since the mass destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the use of nuclear weapons to force a Japanese surrender and end the Second World War, scientists have developed more productive uses for splitting the atom. However, many people remain fearful and suspicious of this powerful energy source.
The subsequent incidents at 3-Mile Island, Chornobyl and Fukushima have only served to justify their concerns. People are probably unaware that burning fossil fuels to generate electricity accounts for more injuries and fatalities daily than these three isolated events combined. While the technology used for cooling, containment and control contributes to the safety and reliability of nuclear power, the knowledge, experience and practical skills of a plant’s operators are equally crucial.
Training of nuclear power plant operators
Knowledge can be acquired in a classroom or from books, and experience will be gained over time. By contrast, developing the necessary practical skills will require training. How the latter is conducted will invariably determine its effectiveness.
In some environments, like the manufacturing and construction industries, providing operators with on-the-job instruction is standard practice. Teaching a novice the basics of operating a lathe or how to mix cement is relatively straightforward. A more experienced worker performs a given task while the trainee watches before repeating the process personally. However, this is not the most convenient, effective, or safest option when training nuclear power plant operators or in any situation where safety concerns are paramount.
For decades, airlines have employed detailed replicas of flight decks to familiarise pilots with the layout and effects of aircraft controls to prepare them for the real thing. However, it is now possible to mimic live flight instruction and other training exercises without a multimillion-dollar investment. Rather than physically replicating a power plant’s layout and control systems, these can be reproduced in detail using a computerised interactive audio-visual simulation.
Using simulations to train nuclear power plant operators
Whether it is nuclear, coal, oil or gas-fired, operating a power station involves similar actions like turning a dial, pressing a button or pulling a lever. The effects of these actions are typically shown on digital or analogue displays. However, each of these actions can be performed, and their effects can be displayed by a software programme, thus avoiding all need to allow untrained personnel in live operating situations before they are thoroughly confident and competent.
Trainee plant operators can interact with the simulated controls in a typical workplace scenario using a keyboard or mouse and receive immediate visual or audible feedback from their actions as applicable. The user experience is similar to playing a computer game. In practice, the software used to develop training simulations leverages gaming technology, which helps to explain their effectiveness.
Why employ simulators to train nuclear power plant operators?
While the theoretical aspects of a nuclear reactor can be taught effectively in a classroom, attempting to provide untrained personnel with practical experience poses problems. For a start, it is a slow process and can interfere with a plant’s routine operation. A simulator can overcome these snags and offer many other valuable benefits.
- A safer option: The Chornobyl incident underlined the dangers of inexperienced operators conducting a routine operation. In real life, an error could cause destruction and fatalities. In a simulation, mistakes become a learning experience, and their consequences are merely images on a screen.
- A more compelling approach: Simulations can capture and hold a user’s undivided attention, like the computer games on which they are based. An enjoyable learning experience is inherently more effective.
- Greater flexibility: The simulations can be run on a single PC or deployed across a network, allowing trainees to practice whenever they are free, with or without supervision.
- Proven success: The growing reliance on training simulations in fields like aerospace, defence, desalination, manufacturing, mining, and healthcare is ample proof of the power of this technology and how it is transforming training in the energy industry.
SimGenics is a leading developer of training solutions for power plants. Contact us today to learn how you can streamline training for your nuclear power plant operators.