So, how do you train employees to work on equipment that is rarely taken out of service? How do you reduce the risk in what is inherently a risky task due to lag times between execution? You do exactly what the Instrumentation and Electrical (I&E) crew at Oconee have done. You build your own relay simulator to practice on.
In a nuclear energy facility, some components are rarely taken out of service due to their required safety functions in plant operation. It’s not uncommon for two years to go by before human hands manipulate the components, especially the electrical relay circuitry that controls many plant systems.
The brain-child of in-house technicians Lane Bryant and Barry Bishop, the relay simulator is approximately 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide, made of fiber board with several different electrical circuit relays mounted on the board. Upon first glance, it may not seem like much to look at. Plug up the power supply to the simulator, though, and it’s a whole different story. The relay circuit lights glow and are fully connected to other circuits installed on the board. In other words, this simulator mimics the live wiring and connections in the plant. The technicians who built the mock relay board didn’t stop at just building a replica, however. Drawings were created to document the configuration of the board and they are in the process of incorporating employee standards into the board’s configuration to use it as an official, documentable training device.
The Oconee I&E team created the relay simulator to reduce a number of risks in executing electrical relay work safely and error-free. Relay circuits are typically only available for planned maintenance when the unit is shutdown for a refueling outage. This creates quite a challenge when a relay technician enters the plant to work on a circuit that he’s only encountered twice in 10 years. The potential for human error and unintended consequences somewhere else in the plant are greatly amplified in that situation. This is where the relay simulator comes into play. The technician can use the relay simulator to safely practice the work he is preparing to execute in the plant. There is no risk of negatively impacting the plant while using the relay simulator and the technician can get familiar with the task in a safe environment. “I am very proud of what this team has accomplished on their own initiative. The fact that this team recognized the need for an instrument to help us reduce risk to the station is a great testament to the strong nuclear safety culture at Oconee,” says Jeremy Fisher, I&E manager.
Technicians have only begun to scratch the surface of how this relay simulator can be used. The benefits of the relay simulator extend beyond training for the I&E technicians. Other plant groups can use the simulator for problem solving in a safe environment, mitigating the risk of doing problem solving in the plant itself. The maintenance department can use the simulator for On The Job Training (OJT) of different electrical relay circuit scenarios with qualified I&E technicians, and for training and qualifying new I&E technicians.
The possibilities are endless when you stop to consider the interconnectedness of systems and components in a nuclear facility. For now, the I&E crew is focused on how the relay simulator can improve their task execution and reduce risk by training and reviewing process steps in a safe environment. The old saying is true, “if you build it, they will come,” and other groups from the site and the rest of Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet are on their way to see what this new tool is all about.