Nuclear power comeback sure to employ wireless tools
Integrated online monitoring system takes signals from existing wired sensors and new wireless sensors to provide holistic view of equipment health
By R.J. Jarrett, H.M. Hashemian, G.W. Morton, B.D. Shumaker, and C.J. Kiger
Wireless presence in nuclear power plants is inevitable. The government and industry sectors are preparing.
In the U.S., where no new nuclear facilities have opened in decades, nuclear power will play a role in the country’s energy policy, whose intent is to temper global warming by burning less fossil fuel and to reduce reliance on foreign oil.
Old plants are applying for the renewal of their licenses, and new plants are on the drawing boards. Wireless technologies will be a part of both pursuits.
Maturing technologies push
Power generation utilities are striving to use wireless technologies in nuclear power plants, but they face a number of important challenges including infrastructural issues, security risks, reliability questions, and interference problems.
Furthermore, wireless technologies are still maturing, and a number of critical questions remain as to how and in which areas they can best serve the nuclear industry.
These questions are under investigation in a research and development (R&D) project we are conducting with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The project is in two phases to progress over a period of three years. The Phase I effort is completed, and the Phase II project is pending. In Phase I, the feasibility of wireless sensors for equipment condition monitoring in nuclear power plants was the object of investigation. In Phase II, this R&D effort will continue for another two years to address the technical issues that must be resolved to establish the foundation for widespread use of wireless technologies in nuclear power plants.
The R&D will focus not only on equipment condition monitoring, but also, and as importantly, for a variety of other applications such as equipment aging and obsolescence management, manpower savings, reduction of radiation dose to maintenance personnel, asset management, and process measurements.
During Phase I, a survey of 20 nuclear power plants determined the current extent of wireless use in these plants. Voice and data communication is currently the most prominent application in these plants.
However, wireless technologies for equipment condition monitoring, process measurement, and other applications will find their way into the nuclear industry over the next five to 10 years, depending on how soon researchers resolve the implementation issues.
Although wireless sensors and related technologies are still evolving, utilities (through the Electric Power Research Institute, or EPRI), have been proactive in assessment of these technologies for nuclear power plants. In particular, EPRI has launched efforts over the last few years to examine the potential of wireless sensors for equipment condition monitoring and other applications in both fossil and nuclear power plants.
For example, in cooperation with EPRI, the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Station in Texas has taken advantage of wireless technologies to build a communication and networking infrastructure in the plant that also incorporates wireless sensors for equipment condition monitoring and diagnostics.
Resulting data unique, telling
The Phase I effort had six objectives, and the study successfully concluded in March 2008. Here are some of the important achievements.
Evaluation and selection of wireless sensors: The study evaluated 11 manufacturers of wireless sensors and transmitters during Phase I, of which eight have products that can work for this R&D work.
Three of these manufacturers (Honeywell, Emerson, and Techkor) loaned wireless sensors to AMS for the study. The three manufacturers that we evaluated but who are not on the results table, are Siemens, Telesensors, and Azima.
Laboratory research with wireless sensors: The project used and an existing test loop at AMS to take data from wireless sensors, compare them with data from wired sensors, and analyze them to demonstrate the feasibility of wireless sensors for equipment condition monitoring and other applications in nuclear power plants. Important raw data now exists from these tests.
Integration of wireless with wired sensors: We developed and tested a prototype data-acquisition system to acquire both wireless and wired sensor data during this phase. With this system, technicians sampled wired and wireless sensor data simultaneously and stored it all in a common database (historian) for subsequent analysis.
Equipment fault detection using wireless sensors: We introduced artificial faults into the equipment and/or the processes (simulated by the test loop) to determine if wireless sensors data could detect them. This experiment served to validate the data collection and data analysis algorithms and software packages used in Phase I. This effort was very successful.
Nuclear industry interviews and surveys: The research team conducted interviews and surveys with technical representatives in nuclear power plants to identify the areas of greatest interest in wireless technologies and potential roadblocks to implementation of these technologies including reliability problems, security concerns, and regulatory issues.
Phase 1 reviewed the work of EPRI, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, and others.
We established the state-of-the-art in wireless technologies for nuclear power plants. This review concluded wireless technologies are currently used to some extent for voice and data communications in nuclear power plants, but their use for other applications are very limited due to infrastructural issues and security concerns. That is, most nuclear power plants do not have a wireless backbone to build upon and include wireless sensors for the variety of applications that exist in nuclear power plants.
Work in wireless application areas for nuclear power plants is also proceeding at international research organizations, laboratories, and universities. In this phase, we only looked at U.S. organizations.
The next step is Phase II. That effort is due to run for two years to develop and implement a prototype system to use wireless technologies for a variety of applications in nuclear power plants.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
R.J. Jarrett is an engineer at TVA nuclear and has 20 years of instrument and control experience. He is a member of the ISA67.04 Standard committee. H.M. Hashemian (firstname.lastname@example.org) is AMS President. He has Ph.D. in electrical engineering and is an ISA Fellow. His book is Sensor Performance and Reliability, ISA Press, 2005. G.D. Morton (email@example.com) is manager of software development at AMS. He has a Masters in electrical engineering and 10 years of I&C experience. B.D. Shumaker (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior software engineer at AMS. He has a Masters in computer science. C.J. Kiger (email@example.com) is also a senior software engineer at AMS with a Masters in electrical engineering. He is an IEEE member. To see a summary of the work planned for Phase II, view the original white paper at www.isa.org/link/AMS_WP_Jan09.
Atomic public relations
Some questionable ideas or unpopular concepts undergo treatments using public relations techniques. We put a “spin” on a happening to highlight the positive.
The time for nuclear power and using it to make electricity is growing closer, and spin and pragmatism are becoming one.
William Tucker has written Terrestrial Energy, a book where he argues nuclear power is the best option realistically available to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and address the nettlesome matter of greenhouse gas emissions.
Nuclear power is a “perfectly natural phenomenon.” It is indeed the source of the Earth’s inner heat. Radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium serve as fuel to “the incredible interior furnace that heats the earth’s interior to temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun, spitting out volcanoes and lava flows, floating the planet’s continents like giant barges on its molten core.”
The Wall Street Journal quoted Tucker as saying, “The real problem is public fear of all things nuclear.”
He would like to “change the terms of the debate” in the hope that a better public understanding of nuclear energy will lead to the acceptance of its use.
People still recall nuclear meltdowns
By Nicholas Sheble
Typical of many areas of the world, where laws passed in the 1970s and the 1980s after nuclear power plant disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, is the state of Oregon in the U.S.
The construction of new nuclear power plants became unlawful nearly 30 years ago in Oregon.
There has not been a nuclear accident in decades, and now global warming is an important matter to people, counties, states, and countries.
As well, the nuclear technology has not stood still. It is better and safer.
Most importantly today is nuclear power facilities do not generate greenhouse gases and do not contribute to global warming.
These laws against the construction of new nuclear plants in the U.S. are up against the drive to stop global warming and to rid us of fossil-fuel electricity, power, and dependency on foreign oil.
The law will change soon.
The Statesman Journal in Oregon reported in October 2008, Governor Ted Kulongoski announced his Climate Change Agenda to aggressively mitigate the impacts of global warming and put Oregon on track to achieve his goals of reducing greenhouse gas levels. These goals will be hard to reach without having an energy source that can meet upcoming energy demand and produce emission-free electricity. Nuclear could be that energy source.
Energy consumption in Oregon has increased 133% in the last 48 years and will continue to increase as the population grows another 28%, to an estimated 4.5 million by 2025.
Wind, solar, and ocean energy (tidal, thermal, wave) are either not developed or not sufficiently reliable and consistent to supply the electricity grid with power to meet base load demand now and in the future.
Emission-free base load power will need to generate from nuclear or large hydroelectric sources; neither is currently an option in Oregon.
To date, the country’s largest source of emission-free electricity is nuclear, accounting for 70% of all emission-free generation in the U.S. However, in 1980, Oregon passed an initiative that virtually banned new construction of nuclear power plants.
In the opinion of contributor Todd Wynn, the climate change and energy policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, “if Oregon is truly serious about reducing greenhouse gases, it is time to put nuclear power back on the table. Governor Kulongoski should end the ban on nuclear power in Oregon and neither promote nor subsidize it, but give private investors an opportunity to provide it. Nuclear power clearly should be one part of any comprehensive climate change plan.”