Undoubtedly, your nuclear power plant simulator is one of your most valuable and heavily used resources. However, is it becoming a bottleneck that risks your training success? Many utilities ask themselves that same question: does investing in a second simulator make sense? Here are seven reasons your peers considered coming to this critical conclusion.
1. The changing workforce
Before Covid, the industry faced a long-dreaded turnover of experienced operators. The pandemic only amplified the workforce crises, putting more pressure on utilities to quickly find and train reliable talent. Because of this, operator training programs face more initial license operator classes, which means a bigger burden on your staff and your simulator.
For those utilities, training operators on two units but using one reference simulator, the availability of quality simulator time is even more challenging. A second plant simulator provides several benefits to help alleviate those challenges:
- Flexibility in scheduling
- Reduction in off-shift training and associated cost
- Ability for improved additional throughput – or at least elimination of a single point of failure in your operator training program
These second simulators replicate the plant’s existing full-scope operator training simulators, which were being stressed to handle all the organization’s training needs.
2. Adding bandwidth to increase trainee throughput for newly licensed operators
With looming retirements requiring a backfill of licensed operators, simulator availability is becoming a quality-of-life issue for both instructors and operators. The sheer number of training exercises requiring the simulator has meant long periods of backshift time. The added bandwidth from these new simulators will allow the required training to be completed during normal working hours.
3. Opportunities to improve plant and human performance
A plant’s simulator is earmarked first and foremost for operator training. Often any other purposes must be put on the back burner to meet all the training requirements. But the simulator can be a valuable tool for departments, such as engineering. A second simulator opens the possibilities for studying human factors engineering, performing verification and validation of plant changes, and the virtual commissioning of control system modifications.
4. Leveraging the investment
While initially purchased and intended for training, the simulator can be a valuable resource for your entire organization. Today’s simulators, when built from the ground up or modified with the latest modeling tools, are much more sophisticated than older versions built with hand-coded models. The more the plant is simulated, the fewer assumptions are used, and the modeling technologies and techniques provide a much more realistic representation of real plant performance. Engineering, emergency planning, operations, maintenance, and the executive suite can all benefit from having a realistic and dynamic model of the plant to use for change analysis, procedure verification, human factors, and training certifications. A second plant simulator can support all of these additional uses.
How much more agile and efficient could your organization be if it had access to a state-of-the-art working model of your plant? Think about it.
5. Synchronizing training and engineering
Your plant is constantly undergoing changes and upgrades to improve efficiency, replace obsolete systems, increase electrical output, and improve safety. For two-unit sites, the changes seem constant! With only one simulator available for operator training, you need to decide when to implement changes and how to train effectively in two different control room environments. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) pays attention to the physical fidelity of your “reference plant” simulator and the timing of changes in the simulator versus the real unit. Two plant simulators allow for better planning and more efficient training, adding agility to your operations workforce.
6. Site-wide events
The events at Fukushima taught us an accident at a nuclear site may not be limited to just one unit. For multi-unit sites, the interplay between operating units and the ability to train your staff on site-wide response scenarios could be the difference that prevents disaster. Training on an integrated response between units is challenging and overly simplified at worst. Tying two simulators together can provide effective operator training on dual unit events such as grid disturbances and emergency operations procedures.
7. Do the math
Depending upon the number of license holders at your facility – and the need for initial and requalification training and maintenance of senior reactor operator (SRO) certifications – your team’s plant simulator contact hours could fall below the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations’ (INPO) recommended 60 hours annually.
Think of it this way. There are only so many hours in a year in which to train your operators. A second plant simulator doubles the availability for operator training, ensuring that your staff meets or exceeds the industry standard recommendations in the best training environment possible.