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Nuclear Power Experts Explore Solutions to New Build Challenges at IAEA Event

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34 participants from 18 countries and four international organizations examined issues including schedule management and implementation challenges at the IAEA Technical Meeting on Challenges in New Build Projects in Countries with Nuclear Power Programmes from 13 to 15 November. (Photo: M. Fisher/IAEA)

Constructing a nuclear power plant is a complex endeavour involving an array of challenges—from scheduling and financing to hiring and training qualified staff—in a highly regulated environment. At a meeting at the IAEA earlier this month, experts from countries with a nuclear power programme shared their experiences with these challenges and considered options to address them in current or future new build projects.

The IAEA Technical Meeting on Challenges in New Build Projects in Countries with Nuclear Power Programmes, attended by 34 participants from 18 countries and four international organizations, examined a wide range of issues, from schedule management to implementation challenges, and explored potential pathways for optimizing the construction and commission of new plants.

“There are currently projects underway around the world to add more than 53 GW of nuclear generating capacity in 18 countries, and the majority of these projects are in countries with existing nuclear power programmes,” said Ed Bradley, Team Leader for NPP Operation and Engineering Support and scientific secretary of the meeting. “As we seek to hasten the transition towards sustainable, low-carbon energy systems, it is crucial that project delivery capabilities be strengthened so that nuclear energy may be utilized to the fullest extent possible.”

During the meeting, participants engaged on a range of issues in four categories: the interface between a country’s existing nuclear programme and the new build project; the establishment of a supply chain for construction, including quality management; controlling risks such as schedule and costs; and stakeholder involvement. In the course of discussion, common challenges emerged, from issues with human resource capacity to legislative changes to public acceptance.

“It has been very useful to hear about the experience other countries have had with new build projects in terms of issues with programme development and self-reliance,” said Olivier Bard, a project director in the Engineering and New Nuclear Projects Department of Électricité de France (EDF), which is constructing a 1650 MW(e) reactor at the Flamanville site on France’s northwest coast. “The IAEA Milestones framework is a very interesting guideline to use in facing the many challenges of developing a programme. It shows that cooperation with government is key for ensuring project success.”

“Romania dealt with a number of challenges during the construction of the Cernavodă Nuclear Power Plant, including infrastructure development and the manufacture of components that met established standards,” said Maria Oprisescu, an electrical engineer at the National Commission for Nuclear Activities Control in Romania, whose two 706 MW(e) CANDU reactors came online in 1996 and 2007, respectively. “This meeting has been helpful in identifying possible solutions to common issues, including challenges related to supply chain management and knowledge management.”

“Construction of a third reactor at the Angra Nuclear Power Plant has started and stopped several times owing to issues including inconsistent financing,” said Camila Rodrigues Mello, a nuclear engineer at Amazônia Azul Tecnologias de Defesa in Brazil, which in 2010 poured the first concrete on Angra-3, a 1405 MW(e) pressurized water reactor on the country’s southern coast. The plant is still under construction. “There are also many professionals in our nuclear industry who will retire soon, and so knowledge retention will be very important going forward.”

Sharing experiences with countries that have faced similar challenges has been very beneficial as Brazil strives to solve these issues, she added.

Several methods for enhancing the efficiency of future new build projects and reducing risk uncertainty were identified. One such method involves establishing programme certainty and consistency through a coordinated, holistic approach. By engaging with all relevant parties and considering potential issues from the outset of a project, instead of dealing with problems as they arise, new build projects are likely to be implemented more smoothly and with fewer surprises, meeting participants agreed.

It was also acknowledged that as it is important for suppliers to be aware of specific regulatory requirements, efforts should be made to inform them accordingly to avoid unnecessary delays and excess costs.

In some new build projects, construction began before the plant design was mature enough, resulting in delays and cost overruns when significant design changes appeared through the building process. Contracts could be structured to require almost complete design information before construction begins, participants agreed.

The Technical Meeting is part of the IAEA’s expanding efforts to support Member States with new build projects, in particular by pursuing partnership opportunities to avoid duplication of work and maximize resources. The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre were all active participants in the meeting and helped identify potential partnership opportunities for the future.

The IAEA will soon release a final version of a toolkit for use by Member States to support the development of the supply chain for nuclear power plant construction. A beta version of the toolkit is already available for two IAEA networks: the Management System Network of Excellence (MSN) and the Nuclear Energy Capacity Building Hub (CBH). An IAEA report on lessons learned from risk management during construction is due to be published in the near future, possibly in 2020/2021.

The IAEA offers several tools to support impact analysis of nuclear power programmes, including the Simplified Approach for Estimating Impacts of Electricity Generation (SIMPACTS). A new tool, the Extended Input Output Model for Nuclear Power Plant Impact Assessment (EMPOWER), will be available soon. EMPOWER captures not only the direct effects of constructing, operating and decommissioning a plant, but also the indirect and induced effects along the entire supply chain.

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