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Instrumentation and Control Systems for Nuclear Power Plants

A nuclear power plant (NPP) contains thousands of components and equipment, such as motors, pumps or valves that have to be operated in a well-coordinated way. This coordination is performed by instrumentation and control (I&C) systems. These systems allow plant personnel to monitor the status of the NPP more effectively, identify opportunities for improved performance of equipment and systems, and anticipate, understand and respond to potential problems. Essentially, the purpose of I&C systems in NPPs is to enable and support safe and reliable power generation through controlling the plant processes.

I&C – a Nuclear Power Plant’s Central Nervous System

The I&C system architecture, together with plant operations personnel, serves as the "central nervous system" of an NPP.

Through its constituent elements, such as equipment, modules, sensors, transmitters, motors, valves and others, the I&C system senses plant parameters, monitors performance, integrates information, and makes automatic adjustments to the NPP’s operations as necessary. It also responds to failures and off-normal events, thus ensuring efficient power production and safety. Particular attention is given to the design, testing, operation, maintenance, licensing, operation, and modernization of I&C systems.

As many NPPs are licensed to extend their operating life, maintaining ageing or obsolete components and equipment may not be cost effective. Therefore, the nuclear industry has been modernizing existing analog I&C systems to digital ones, and also implements new digital I&C systems in new plants. These advanced systems improve the performance of the entire plant and consequently the economics and safety of present and future NPPs. Modern digital measurement and monitoring systems can also contribute to physical and cyber security, if designed with security as a core requirement.

Recognizing the important contribution of I&C systems in NPPs to safety and economics, the IAEA facilitates the exchange of information and lessons learned through conferences, technical meetings, workshops, training courses and coordinated research projects. It also develops guidelines and technical publications on different aspects of I&C systems.

I&C Review Missions

As a service to Member States, the IAEA offers Independent Engineering Review of I&C Systems (IERICS) missions. Organizations such as utilities, regulators, technical support organizations, research laboratories and universities can benefit from this technical peer review.

Established in 2009, the IERICS mission is performed by a group of international experts and IAEA staff who review I&C design documents, prototype I&C systems, and actual systems already deployed in operating NPPs. Based on IAEA Safety Standards and guidance publications such as Safety Guides and Nuclear Energy Series reports, the mission team provides a detailed technical assessment of I&C systems, as well as recommendations for improvements. Upon invitation by Member States, several IERICS missions have been conducted in China, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

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