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Successful Techniques to Cut Nuclear Construction Times Showcased at IAEA General Conference


Vogtle 3 and 4 among three nuclear power projects showcased at the Nuclear Operators’ Forum, held on the margins of the 67th IAEA General Conference in Vienna, Austria, on 28 September 2023 (Photo: Southern Nuclear).

New industrial techniques are driving down construction times and undermining a common argument against nuclear power stations—that they take too long to build. At an event on the side lines of the 67th IAEA General Conference last week, three freshly completed nuclear construction projects were showcased by representatives explaining just how they cut down their time scales—while battling the challenges of a global pandemic.

The three projects—Fuqing-5 and 6 in China, Leningrad-2 Unit 2 in Russia and Vogtle-3 and 4 in the United States of America—took between six and ten years to build. The new reactors are all advanced pressurised water reactors. They differ from previous generations of reactors by using passive or inherent safety systems, having an element of design standardization and using elements of modular construction, making them faster and cheaper to build.

“The lessons from these projects today are not confined to conventional gigawatt-scale nuclear power plants alone,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. “They hold the promise of significant value for small modular reactors (SMRs) and other advanced reactor designs. The ingenuity and expertise that have driven these projects forward are the very qualities that will propel the future of nuclear energy.”

Modular technology was key to cutting construction times for Fuqing-5 and 6, also known as the Hualong One project. According to Jia Yuqiang, Chairman of the Board at the Fuqing power plant, lifting the steel liner in sections, rather than as a single object, reduced construction times by about 70 days and made the installation of this section of the 1161 MW Hualong One reactor safer and easier. During the installation of the pressure valve, an often lengthy and difficult process, 3D measurement technology improved quality and put the project four days ahead of schedule.

Many of the time saving initiatives used at Fuqinq were responses to the experience of building other nuclear power plants. “The Hualong One project was built through independent innovation based on summarizing China’s nuclear power construction experience,” said Yuqiang.

Similar to Fuqing, the building of Leningrad-2 Unit 2 was informed by the analysis and feedback from Leningrad-2 Unit 1, completed in 2018, and other reactors. In total, this knowledge helped shorten the schedule and testing of Unit 2 by 27 days, according to Alexander Katsman, Deputy Director General for New Units Commissioning at Rosenergoatom.

At Unit 2, the construction team used an Open-Top technique which saw the installation of large reactor components through a temporary roof opening in the unfinished reactor building, giving the project a head start on its installation and welding phase. Parallel welding of all four loops of the coolant system further reduced timescales by 19 days.

Speaking of the construction of Vogtle-3 and 4, the US’s first new nuclear power plant project for several decades, Steve Kuczynski, CEO of Southern Nuclear said one lesson his company had learnt as a plant owner/operator was that, to drive the schedule forward, the owner needs to be in control of the construction phase from the start. “Many projects don’t start that way, but they all end that way,” said Kuczynski.

He recommended early and frequent engagement with the regulator, stressed the importance of using contractors with a proven track record, and the alignment and proper sequencing of incentive and milestone payments.

“This kind of knowhow is so vital right now because we need to make construction faster and cheaper by gathering, sharing and ultimately applying the experience and lessons of new construction technologies and techniques to ensure nuclear power’s contribution to net zero by 2050,” said Ed Bradley, the IAEA’s Team Leader of NPP Operation and Engineering Support.

According to the International Energy Agency, nuclear power capacity needs to at least double by 2050 to achieve global climate goals. Hitting that target will require refurbishing, preserving and prolonging existing capacity, adding new capacity to the grid and rapidly extending nuclear power’s contribution beyond electricity to hard to abate sectors such as industry and transportation.

“Big and small—we need them all,” said Bradley. “But meeting this challenge needs massive international collaboration and cooperation.”

The Nuclear Operators’ Forum is an annual event begun in 2011 as part of the implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety. Its aim is to enhance cooperation among nuclear owner and operating organizations to strengthen the safety and effectiveness of nuclear electricity generation. It offers a forum for senior leaders from the operating organizations and support institutions to identify and share experiences, approaches and strategies influencing safety and performance excellence in the long term.


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