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IAEA Nuclear Operators' Forum Highlights Reactor Fleet's Commitment to Innovation

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A collaborative commitment to innovation is crucial to maximizing the contribution of the global nuclear power reactor fleet to the clean energy transition. This was the key message at the 10th Nuclear Operators’ Forum, held as an online event alongside the 64th IAEA General Conference today.

Opening the event, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said the nuclear industry has identified an urgent need to overcome barriers to sustaining the world’s 391.7 GW(e) of operating nuclear capacity, comprising a fleet of 442 operating power reactors. “Sustaining the fleet through innovation requires that management set out a clear vision and create an environment for success,” Mr Grossi said.

Panelists at the virtual forum, attended by 122 delegates, discussed challenges and solutions for ensuring innovation to advance the fleet’s contribution to a stable, non-polluting, low emission electrical grid.

This year’s Operators’ Forum continues from the 2019 Innovation for the Future of Nuclear Energy — A Global Forum, an initiative to identify and prioritize innovative technologies and processes most critical to sustaining and advancing nuclear power. Some of these innovations include: digital twinning (creating a virtual model of a real-life process) to improve performance and to reduce costs; advanced manufacturing, such as 3D printing, to address supply chain challenges; machine learning using huge volumes of already available data, or ‘big data’, to optimize maintenance; and innovative frameworks for information exchange, data sharing on research and development, operations and maintenance. The Global Forum continues to focus on accelerating the deployment of innovative solutions to address the most urgent challenges facing the sustainability of operating nuclear power plants.

“Many innovations are already happening,” said Ed Bradley, Team Leader for Nuclear Power Plant Operation and Engineering Support at the IAEA. “In Canada, for example, augmented reality, drones and laser-based imagery are saving time, reducing costs and allowing work to progress despite the ongoing pandemic,” Bradley said. “Realtime tracking and remote monitoring are allowing countries like China to improve work process efficiencies. And in the United States, broad collaboration across the industry continues to deliver tangible benefits to operators, which helps to ensure nuclear power delivers on its original, clean energy promise.”

Crowdsourcing for solutions

The Forum also announced the results of this year’s Crowdsourcing Competition: Call for Innovative Solutions Deployed at Nuclear Power Plants.

Building on the work of The Global Forum, the competition encouraged stakeholders from nuclear power plant operators, utilities, regulatory bodies, technical support and R&D organizations to submit an existing innovative project already in place at power plants. Submissions had to be clearly linked to a given challenge and show a tangible impact and benefit.

Noteworthy entries highlighted at the event were from Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant in China, Palo Verde Generating Station in the United States, SNC Lavalin in Canada, and Tricastin Nuclear Power Plant in France. These entries proposed unique solutions for ensuring more efficient business operation and more effective use of human resources.

“Many processes central to the operation of nuclear power plants depend on skillful, intelligent human decision making and actions learned over years of experience. However, many nuclear power plants face market pressures and staff turnover,” said Bradley Fox, Senior Data Science and Machine Learning Engineer at the Palo Verde Generating Station in Arizona, who presented his team’s crowdsourcing entry at the event. “Fortunately, recent advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies can be leveraged to augment humans in various nuclear operational safety and performance tests.”

The commitment to innovation needs to be a collaborative effort across the nuclear power sector, participants said. “Momentum is needed to rally stakeholders from all parts of the industry to ensure that nuclear power can achieve its full potential in the global clean energy transition,” said Mikahil Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. 

About the Nuclear Operators' Forum

The Nuclear Operators’ Forum was initiated in 2011 as part of the implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety. It aims to strengthen the safety and effectiveness of nuclear electricity generation by enhancing cooperation among nuclear owner/operating organizations. It offers a platform for senior leaders from the operating organizations and support institutions to identify and share experiences, approaches and strategies to influence safety and performance excellence of nuclear facilities in the long term.

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