Building a second plant replica simulator is again becoming a key topic of discussion. Having built simulators for major US utilities, we have gathered some key lessons to be learned, particularly around the design basis and intended use of the valuable new tools. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for and plan your second simulator project.
Determine the design basis
When building a second simulator, it’s important to start by taking a good, hard look at your existing simulator. Does it match the plant? Chances are that your simulator is ahead of or behind the actual plant in terms of physical and model fidelity. If it doesn’t exactly match the plant, you have three options when determining the design basis for your second simulator.
Design to match the existing simulator
This will likely not be easy to accomplish completely, given equipment obsolescence. With this option, remember that both simulators will likely be behind or ahead of the actual plant. However, the identical simulators will allow a single certification to be applied to both.
Design to match the current/future plant status
If you decide to match the current/future plant status, there will be differences between the simulators. This gives you a platform to train operators on new equipment and systems (vs. the original simulator), but these variations may require you to obtain and maintain separate NRC certifications for each.
Design/Update so that both simulators match the plant
Building the new simulator to match the actual plant and upgrading your existing simulator to match it will provide the best return on investment.
Because you need to maintain an actual plant reference simulator throughout the project, consideration must be given to control the configuration best and incorporate any changes that occur during the new simulator build. Keeping a clear end-point configuration in mind while making decisions throughout the project is important.
You may initially view a second simulator as a standalone project, but it will likely become clear, once started, that you’ll want to make at least some changes to the existing simulator. Whether you update some instrumentation or opt for a total rebuild, making these updates during the second simulator project will allow you to maximize your return on investment and save money. You’ll maximize ROI because:
The simulator design is already complete
The biggest cost advantage to updating your existing simulator during the second simulator build is that the design is complete, and you only pay for the implementation. That work has already been done, plus there will be reusable instrumentation and other parts from the new simulator, which provides the perfect opportunity to rebuild your existing simulator for a fraction of what it would cost to build it.
You can also save money considering a wide spectrum of possible software and hardware updates, such as the simulation executive, modeling software, an IO upgrade, updated instrumentation, sound system, etc., to keep the new and existing simulators the same.
Streamlined maintenance equals cost savings
Having both simulators on the same technology and, to a large extent, even the same version, enables the simulators to easily share model upgrades and instructor station scenarios, keep configuration control, and maintain consistency.
A total rebuild will also save on maintenance costs by providing two new simulators with 40-year life spans and new wiring and IO. An additional bonus is that the new documentation will apply to both simulators, adding efficiency to maintenance and future upgrade activities. Additionally, both simulators being identical will allow a single certification to be applied to both simulators.
The second simulator provides a platform to implement & test new technology
Incorporating new technology into the second simulator build is a smart way to ‘future-proof’ your existing simulator against near-term obsolescence. You may already be contemplating advanced technology such as RELAP5-HD, MAAP, or an updated audio-visual system, use this opportunity to test the technology before incorporating it into your existing simulator. The second simulator also provides a perfect platform for the virtual commissioning upcoming plant changes.
Don’t miss your opportunity to maximize your return on the second simulator investment. Considering these cost savings, you should plan your existing simulator updates as part of the second simulator project and budget accordingly.
One of the biggest risks to the nuclear industry is the continued loss of experience as workers retire. Especially with such a large project as a new full-scope simulator build, you need to trust that your simulator vendor has deep roots in the industry. Ensure your vendor has the attributes to manage and deliver the project and is not just subcontracting all the work.
Choosing a vendor
Your chosen simulator vendor should have the right experience in both engineering and project management for hardware projects specifically, not just software. The provider must have a true engineering design staff with simulator construction experience. The right vendor is highly trained with years of experience in building nuclear power plant simulators to ANSI 3.5 certification standards.
Things will happen on a project that you can’t plan for. In addition to experience, vendors need to be able to anticipate challenges and get creative in finding solutions, such as obtaining 30-year-old legacy parts.
Building a second simulator is like building a second nuclear power plant. There are thousands of parts to purchase and dozens of vendors to coordinate and manage. The right vendor will have the infrastructure and systems, such as a professional purchasing department, inventory and vendor management systems, quality systems, and accounting systems suited for a new simulator build.
These are financially significant projects. The utilities’ internal cost of management, technical resources, and building modifications can match or even exceed the simulator build. Therefore, your vendor must have the financial and bench strength to ensure delivery, no matter what.
Choosing the right vendor is a major factor in reducing the risk of schedule slips and overruns, ensuring that the project progresses as expected from beginning to end. Vendors with the right talent, infrastructure, and company strength have the wherewithal to ensure such a large, important project is delivered on time and within budget, without technical hiccups.
More and more utilities are evaluating the benefits of building a second simulator. While the project is a large undertaking, hopefully, these tips for a successful second simulator build will help you plan for and get the most out of your future project.