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Is simulator availability impacting quality of life? Problem solved.

by | Mar 22, 2017 | Simulation & Training

Recently at CONTE 2017, the American Nuclear Society’s Conference on Nuclear Training and Education, GSE hosted a panel discussion of experts utilizing what the industry has dubbed a “full-scope virtual simulator” to enhance their nuclear plant training programs. The panelists included representatives from some of the most recognizable utilities in the industry including Duke Energy and Exelon Corporation.[1]

It’s not a secret that plant operators often experience burnout at some point in their careers, opting for maintenance or other positions in place of the shift work that comes with operations. Not having to work a 3rd shift for simulator time is an invaluable benefit. Perhaps the most universally preached and recognized benefit of the full-scope virtual simulator was quality of life.

A full-scope virtual simulator is a much more robust representation of your NRC approved simulator/nuclear power plant’s control room compared to the “glasstop” or VPanel™ simulators that the industry is already familiar with. These simulators represent the entirety of your plant’s hard panel controls virtually on touchscreens. This option is much more cost-effective than developing a second full-scope hard panel simulator with all of the instrumentation and controls.

Through this panel discussion we were able to explore the benefits of the full-scope virtual simulator approach. Each panelist was asked how incorporating the simulator has improved their training and operations. All agreed that simulator availability for non-operations training was the number one reason that plants opt for a second simulator solution like a full-scope virtual simulator.

This post compiles the 12+ benefits stated during the panel. We’ve grouped them as they relate to capacity, cost of implementation and flexibility.

Capacity

1. ‘Requal’ Training

Operators were able to perform an entire cycle of requalification training, without credit, as practice before undergoing credited requalification. This freed up time on the main, NRC certified simulator for final testing.

2. Practice Job Performance Measures (JPMs)

More time was available for licensed operators and potential licensed operators to walk through the NRC JPMs.

3. Auxiliary Operator Initial and Continuing Training

Non-licensed operators were able to become involved in more “Whole Crew” scenarios on the simulator. The interaction between auxiliary operators and the control room operators increases team building and allows them to work on communications for configuration control with procedures and provides more realistic timing for plant operations training.

4. Emergency Plan Development

No longer have to juggle the hard panel simulator schedule to develop the EP Drill Scenario.

full-scope virtual simulator

5. Developing Teamwork and Appreciation

Showing the equipment operators what the control room operators are doing and why certain actions take the time they do, leads to better equipment operator emergency support procedures training and a greater appreciation of teamwork.

6. Proactive Training

Added bandwidth of full-scope simulation enabled trainers to focus on high failure manipulations and hard to control operations that students had struggled with.Cost of implementation

7. Procedure Validation

Procedure writers were now allotted the required time necessary to verify and validate (V&V) their new or revised procedures prior to challenging them in the plant. Dry running procedures provides less chance of a faulty or inadequate procedure going out into the plant.

8. Procedure Walkthrough

Availability enabled much coveted Just In Time Training prior to performing an Infrequently Performed Test or Evolution (IPTE). Practicing what to expect and how to respond reduces errors and the potential for equipment damage, personnel getting hurt or violation of a technical specification, etc.

9. Engineering Failure Analysis

Because the panelists’ simulators incorporate high-fidelity engineering grade models, which are currently being installed in many simulators, this provided an excellent opportunity to use the simulator to support engineering analysis, an area where the simulator has traditionally been underutilized. Testing on the simulator reduces errors that could have occurred later in the design and implementation process.

Flexibility

10. Maintenance Requalification

Bring other training programs into the control room for focused training never before possible on the heavily scheduled hard panel simulator.

11. I&C Maintenance

Panelists saw improved operational focus in other groups at their plant. For example, maintenance pre job briefs demonstrated the importance of the equipment surrounding what was being worked on and this improved operational excellence by giving them a better understanding of their environment, the equipment’s function and its purpose.

12. Engineering Support Program (ESP)

The additional bandwidth gave the engineering team more time on the simulator for control room training and operationally focused processes.

Unexpected Results/Benefits

  • Because of the flat panel design, the unit supervisor couldn’t see what the operator was doing as well as they can on a hard panel unit. Therefore, they had to improve verbal communications.
  • Required operators to “slow down” and be more deliberate, requiring them to take a bit longer to perform certain functions. This allows for a better questioning attitude and more focused learning.
  • Not every piece of instrumentation is on the soft panels, therefore they were required to use alternative indications to make decisions. This helps broaden the operators understanding of the plant.

Conclusion

While GSE and many of our industry peers have known for some time now that there are numerous benefits to virtual simulators, this panel discussion opened many eyes and minds to varied, unexpected, and expanded use cases for full-scope virtual simulators.

Duplicating a plant’s simulator (whether in whole or in part) via virtual simulators can provide desperately needed work-life balance for the operators while also saving time and money for the utility as they can decrease overtime spend and get tasks accomplished more quickly.

Duke Energy believes so strongly in their results with their full-scope virtual simulator that they plan to approach the NRC for approval in support of licensed operator training. NRC supporting this change aligns with the forthcoming ANS/ANSI 3.5 revision allowing for licensed operator credit via part task simulators.

[1] Thank you to all of the panelists.

  • Bruce Hennigan, Operations Training Program Manager, Corporate, Exelon Corporation
  • Mark Similey, Operations Training Manager, Brunswick Nuclear Generating Station, Duke Energy
  • Rich Drehs, Supervisor Initial License Training, H.B. Robinson Nuclear Generating Station, Duke Energy
  • Rick Garner, Operations Training Manager, Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, Duke Energy
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