Oconee Nuclear Station is Investing in the Future

To renew its license, Oconee went through a rigorous process with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A large part of that review acknowledged Duke Energy’s commitment to maintaining and upgrading the plant.

In fact, in the past ten years alone, Duke Energy has spent more than two billion dollars on major upgrades to the three-unit site. Beginning in 2003, for example, Oconee spent $425 million dollars replacing the steam generators and reactor vessel heads in all three of its units. More recently, the site became the first plant in the nation to begin an analog-to-digital conversion of a major, plant safety system, known as the reactor protection/engineered safeguards system (RPS/ES). Other recent, major work includes the opening of two new training facilities and a large modification project, which will further protect the plant from tornado damage. Continuously improving is something that’s embedded in the culture of Oconee. 

The RPS/ES upgrades were implemented on Unit 1 during the plant’s 2011 spring refueling outage.  Units 2 and 3 will receive the upgrades during the next two years.

With the exception of a few extra indicator lights and digital read-outs, the system looks and feels the same as the old one. 

On a continuous basis, the reactor protection system monitors inputs like reactor coolant system temperature, pressure and fuel core power, while the engineered safeguards system monitors pressure changes in the reactor coolant system and reactor building. If any limits are approached, the RPS/ES system can automatically trip the reactor or activate key systems that would mitigate the situation.  The new system will help prevent reactor trips and further improves plant reliability.

 “As the first plant in the nation to add this new equipment, Oconee is demonstrating its commitment to continuous improvement as new systems and technologies become available,” Oconee Site Vice President Preston Gillespie said. “It’s enhancements like
these that have us well-positioned to operate a safe, reliable, efficient plant through the duration of our license extension.”

When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sought pilot participants for its new fire protection guidelines (NFPA 805), Oconee joined one other plant in the nation in helping build the foundation for the new program. For five years, Oconee and its parent company, Duke Energy, have been working toward a January 1, 2013 implementation date. When the new guidelines go live, Oconee and Progress Energy’s Harris Nuclear Plant, near Raleigh, North Carolina, will have implemented a new risk-informed/performance based approach to fire protection.

“Essentially, NFPA 805 will allow us to customize our fire protection strategies, focusing on where fires are most likely to occur and how large they could grow based on the source and location,” Duke Energy’s NFPA 805 Technical Manager David Goforth said. “Because we now analyze our plant using realistic fire evaluations, and apply the element of risk to that fire, we can identify where our real risk locations are and mitigate the effects of the fire.  This new method further improves our safety margins.”

Over the past two years, Oconee has been installing a new Protected Service Water system (PSW) creating a third option for shutting the plant down safely. This system is separate from the normal shutdown controls in the control room or the standby shutdown facility.  

Improving the plant is an important step forward, but equally as important is the continued improvement of employee training and the facilities involved.  Because nuclear power plants are so reliable, operators today may never experience equipment failure or other equally catastrophic scenarios that simulators are able to produce.  While textbooks and instructional time are crucial parts of training, time in the simulator is where an operator’s knowledge and skills are put to the test. Oconee Nuclear Station added a second reactor control room training simulator, making it one of three nuclear facilities in the US with two training simulators.

The station’s new two million dollar maintenance training facility’s state of the art equipment allows instructors to provide hands on training using the same equipment professionals would encounter inside the plant.  Capable of capturing training modules on video, this facility gives Oconee the added flexibility of sharing lessons.

Further enhancing safety mechanisms to protect reactor fuel, Oconee has gone above and beyond by taking steps to strengthen protection against natural phenomena and high energy line breaks.  Building on the robust protection already in place within the walls of the reactors, these projects fortify Oconee’s armor around key pieces of equipment against tornado and seismic events.

High energy line breaks refer to piping that carries pressurized hot water to feed the steam generators and the additional water to the reactor cooling system.   Although Oconee has never experienced a high energy line break, adding extra measures improves the ability to weather such an event if it ever occurs.

Because continuous improvement is a company culture, Oconee Nuclear Station continues to demonstrate its commitment to the safe production of nuclear energy.  With a pro active approach to improvement, the future looks bright at Oconee.

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