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Nuclear Power Plant Operations: Challenges Faced During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Nuclear power plants are taking various measures to continue safe operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, including social distancing. (Photo: Rosenergoatom)

The nuclear industry has been taking special measures to cope with the global pandemic, and no country has reported the enforced shutdown of a nuclear power reactor due to the effects of COVID-19 on the workforce or supply chains. This is according to reports from operators and regulators received through the IAEA’s COVID-19 Operational Experience Network (OPEX) and International Reporting System for Operating Experience (IRS).

Operators and regulators continue to ensure safety and security at plants worldwide even as the pandemic has impacted them in various ways, including their planned outages and maintenance schedule, said Dohee Hahn, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Power.

“The input we are receiving provides us with important insight into the pandemic’s impact on the nuclear industry and will help operators and regulators alike to learn from each other’s experiences,” Hahn said.

While operators have taken measures to reduce the risk of infection among employees and maintain day-to-day operations, lower electricity demand caused by restrictions on economic activity has led some plants to reduce power output. Adjustments to activities such as scheduled maintenance outages have also had to be made.

Scheduled maintenance outages of power plants are in some cases being shortened or postponed with regulatory approval by deferring non-critical work, commensurate with the availability of staff while observing distancing practices. “Plant operators are responding to an evolving and unprecedented situation by showing a high level of preparedness, flexibility and resilience,” Hahn said.

The pandemic’s broad impact on the global economy and industrial activity will continue to challenge global supply chains, according to the reports. That impact could affect plant performance in the interim- to long-term, introducing long lead times for new builds or major refurbishment projects. There may also be potential delays in tendering processes as well as uncertainty over available financing for new build projects.

Information has also been received related to contingency planning should staffing levels be further reduced as well as descriptions of actions taken when active COVID-19 cases were detected among employees or their family members.

Ongoing safe operations

“A pandemic such as the current Covid-19 outbreak could challenge the continuity of safe operation of nuclear power plants and therefore operators are implementing special measures that integrate safety into their business activities and priorities under pandemic circumstances,” said Greg Rzentkowski, Director of the IAEA’s Nuclear Installation Safety Division. The objective of those measures is that safety is not compromised  during these unprecedented times, he stressed.

The IAEA has been coordinating with other international organizations including the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the OECD/NEA to compare data on nuclear power and energy market trends amid the pandemic.

The OPEX and IRS platforms will remain open for further input for the duration of the pandemic.

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