Power Plant Operator Training

The Demand for Nuclear Power Simulators is Set to Grow

The recent COP26 conference in the Scottish city of Glasgow may not have produced all of the resolutions we were hoping for to safeguard the future of our planet. However, the meetings did encourage the press to highlight the urgent need to reduce the toxic emissions that are killing wildlife and fuelling an increase in respiratory disease. While wind and solar farms hold promise, their generating capacity is limited. Instead, many countries are backing fission reactors for a greener future, driving a need for nuclear power simulators to provide the rapid and reliable training essential for their safe operation.

One of the more positive outcomes of the Glasgow talks was the promise of substantial financial support from overseas nations to assist South Africa in transitioning from coal-fired generating plants to more eco-friendly alternatives. As a global supplier of yellowcake (uranium oxide), we have more than enough fissionable material at our disposal to facilitate the move to fission power. The financial aid should provide a welcome boost for the government plan to add an extra GW to South Africa’s nuclear capacity by 2030. Each new plant will benefit from a nuclear power simulator to prepare the new operators essential to commission and maintain it.

The traditional teaching approach of “chalk and talk” combined with the animated video material might be a perfectly acceptable option to familiarise learners with the theoretical aspects of the fission process. However, providing a raw recruit with hands-on practical experience in managing the systems that control a reactor poses more of a challenge. Fission produces the heat to generate the steam that drives the generator turbines, and surplus steam is the only emission. 

Nevertheless, containment measures are vital, and a nuclear power simulator is a safe and effective way to familiarise a new operator with those measures. Moreover, a trainer can use the simulation programme to recreate an emergency and provide a valuable practice opportunity with no risk that a mistake could have life-threatening consequences. Investigations following the Chernobyl incident suggest that the disastrous containment breach resulted from a series of errors made during a routine test procedure conducted by inexperienced and poorly trained operators. 

Imagine the impact on the Western Cape if those same mistakes were to be made at Koeberg. Fortunately, a nuclear power simulator can eliminate such risks. More significantly, it can provide staff with the necessary training to handle any emergency. Tackling a simulated situation can develop a level of competence that is only possible when free to repeat an action as often as it might be necessary to perfect it. The facility offers the additional benefit of providing learners with a convenient means to refresh and hone their new skills whenever they may feel the need. 

Trainers have the option to develop the simulations in-house. Advanced software platforms such as 3D Pact and Simupact are widely used to create nuclear power simulators. The packages include all the resources required for the user to create a basic or full-scope simulation suitable for training operators to perform the various tasks necessary to manage a pebble bed modular or pressurised water reactor. Alternatively, a plant manager may choose to outsource the job and employ a specialised development company to create a bespoke product that will meet its specific training requirements. 

While some trainers might be content to settle for an off-the-shelf product, others would prefer to work with a nuclear power simulator that mimics the layout of their plant and its control systems more precisely. Although the degree of detail might remain important, a trainer may want to focus on one or two key procedures rather than commissioning a full-scope simulation. Regardless of the project’s scope, recreating an accurate reproduction of the working environment will require the programmer to work from an equally accurate computerised model. Three-dimensional laser scanning technology provides the means to create that model that will provide a lifelike layout for the various operator functions required of the completed nuclear power simulator.   

The value of simulations as a teaching aid is well-established. Although once used exclusively for pilot training, this versatile and powerful technology has since been adapted for many other purposes, including training surgeons to perform new and unfamiliar procedures. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the generating industry also favours this option. If you would like to learn more about nuclear power simulators, talk to the experts at SimGenics.   

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