Application of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) in Instrumentation and Control Systems of NPPs

Consultant's Meeting on Application of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) in Instrumentation and Control Systems of NPPs

2013-02-15 | A Consultancy Meeting was held on the subject topic on 11 – 15 February 2013 at the IAEA Headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Eight participants from five Member States provided active contribution to the event. The team formulated the extended outline of a new IAEA Nuclear Energy Series publication, covering the various aspects of the application of FPGAs in NPPs.

Operating nuclear power plants worldwide are currently, or will be, facing the need for replacing or upgrading both analogue and digital instrumentation and control (I&C) systems, and new plants are being designed with new I&C systems. In both cases there is a need for advanced I&C systems, and in the case of safety and safety-related systems, they need to be qualified and accepted. Historically, the majority of these systems have been based on microprocessor technology. However, getting regulatory approval for microprocessor-based systems can be costly and time-consuming causing implementation delays. In addition, small simple systems, whether safety, safety-related or non-safety, can be quite costly when developed using microprocessor technology.

Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) are gaining increased attention worldwide for application in nuclear power plant I&C systems, particularly for safety and safety-related applications, but also for non-safety applications. Nuclear power plant operators and equipment suppliers see potential advantages of FPGA-based digital I&C system applications as compared to microprocessor-based applications. This is because FPGA-based systems can be made simpler, more testable, less reliant on complex software (e.g., operating systems), and easier to qualify for safety and safety-related applications. FPGAs also offer an excellent solution when diversity is required. FPGA-based systems have now started to appear in new plant I&C designs, as well as in replacements and upgrades for operating plants.

Due to the considerable potential for, and interest in, FPGA-based applications, the IAEA joined in the sponsorship of a Topical Group on FPGA Applications in NPPs (TG-FAN). The TG-FAN has met annually for five years until now. It became obvious in these meetings that a document on the application of FPGAs in I&C systems in NPPs should be developed to help plant owners, suppliers, regulators and researchers. The IAEA agreed with this need and initiated the document production.

In the next step the draft document will be reviewed by the participants of the upcoming TG-FAN meeting in the fall of 2013, and it will be finalized in a subsequent Consultancy Meeting in early 2014. Publication is expected in the second half of 2014.

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