The dangers to power plant operators are numerous and require stringent safety measures. Simulated training systems are known to improve power plant safety. Although accidents in nuclear power plants have captured the headlines and become the subject of television documentaries, loss of life due to these events has been minimal.
In practice, the workers in conventional coal-, oil- and gas-fired power stations are massively more at risk of injuries and death than those in the nuclear power industry, and the comparative accident statistics prove it. Burning fossil fuels not only presents severe health issues and the long-term problems of global warming, climate change and mass extinctions but also holds short-term hazards.
While an electricity generating station’s systems can and do malfunction, inappropriate or lack of action when such events occur is most frequently responsible for power plant accidents. Indeed, the Chornobyl incident is now widely believed to have been avoidable and thought to have been the consequence of mistakes made by inexperienced operators during a routine system test.
Some Typical Power Plant Safety Issues
Like miners and steeplejacks, the power plant operator’s task carries dangers and must be addressed by strict adherence to recommended safety precautions learned from long experience. The nature of those dangers varies between conventional and nuclear installations. While diesel and natural gas also pose safety issues, workers in a coal-fired plant are most at risk and face the following common hazards.
- Fire and explosion:
While fires caused by gas leaks and stray sparks can occur in homes, underground municipal pipelines and power stations, coal dust can ignite spontaneously and without warning. When it is allowed to become too dry, fine carbon particles from coal can interact with oxygen in the surrounding air at low temperatures to trigger fires and even violent explosions, threatening workers and the plant’s infrastructure. Workers can eliminate these risks by ensuring coal stores are kept damp to prevent dust formation.
- Electric shocks:
Although these are often the result of careless handling, operators must be wary of worn electrical insulation and malfunctioning circuit breakers. Consequently, intermittent visual inspections and mechanical tests should be considered essential elements of an effective power plant safety programme.
- Operational errors:
Generating electricity for commercial use is a delicate balancing act that requires constant adjustment of power production levels to match changing consumer demand to prevent dangerous overloading or power failures.
Pressurised steam is the driving force behind the generating process. Maintaining sufficient water flow to the boiler and ensuring its pressure is within safe limits are vital. Failure to do so could compromise power plant safety, resulting in a burst boiler, scalding hot water release, and danger to those nearby.
Similarly, in a nuclear plant, failure to maintain adequate coolant temperature or stabilise the fission reaction with neutron-absorbing control rods can have dire consequences, including a core meltdown and deadly radiation leak.
While carelessness can never be ruled out entirely, outcomes-based training in the correct operation of a power plant’s critical control systems can vastly reduce the risk of damage to costly plant equipment and life-threatening injuries among its operators. Experience has repeatedly proved training simulations to be the most effective option.
Training Simulations and Power Plant Safety
Like driving instruction, conventional power plant training places an inexperienced operator at the controls of a potentially lethal machine whilst a more experienced person watches and advises, in this case, without dual controls. The practice is risky, to say the least. A training simulator is not only safer but also more efficient. The following are some of the other benefits of this innovative computer-based training technology:
- A compelling, fully immersive experience: Simulations employ interactive gaming technology that grabs a trainee’s attention and maintains it better than a human tutor.
- Faster results: Virtual scenarios inspire confidence and the desire to practice until perfect.
- Improved retention: Instant audiovisual positive and negative feedback helps reinforce lessons.
- Learn from mistakes: Simulated scenarios can only generate simulated consequences. Trainees can repeat tasks until they become instinctive, an option that can be invaluable when learning to handle emergencies.
The SimGenics Answer to Power Plant Safety Needs We are an advanced plant simulator development company specialising in operator training in various fields, including the energy industry. We offer full-scope simulations that duplicate each detail of a plant’s layout and controls, generic versions that approximate these, and software to create simulations in-house. Why not contact us to learn more about upgrading your operator training and power plant safety?