Recently, I had the chance to revisit Oconee Nuclear Station’s Unit 2 reactor building – nearly five years after my first experience as a new employee inside containment.
This time, I wasn’t dressed out in my radiation protection clothing. I didn’t have to wear a dosimeter. I didn’t even have to open the equipment hatch. I was there in the blink of my two eyes – literally.
I opened my eyes and immediately, and loudly, inhaled – “Oh. My. Gosh!” I looked down to find myself standing in a surfer’s stance on one of the grated platforms along the containment wall inside Unit 2. Looking through the grate and seeing the basement some 50 feet below made me woozy.
I had to sit down for a minute. I took off the virtual reality headset and laughed out loud. It was amazing, and I could see the eagerness in the eyes of the metrology team encouraging me to put on the headset once more.
Back inside containment, I settled into my surroundings. How awesome it was. I used my hand controllers to move myself up, down, left, right, forward and backward. It was a little like being in a virtual chess game, but there is nothing like moving in the forward position toward a very real – and large – pipe supporting the reactor coolant system. I braced myself and flinched, expecting impact, but I glided effortlessly through the components unscathed.
Duke Energy’s metrology group, stationed at Oconee, uses laser equipment for imaging of plant systems and components. The project I was “in” was executed in 2017 during a refueling outage. The team obtained 363 individual scan positions during the outage to develop enough images to make it completely virtual. It took five weeks of data acquisition, processing and rendering to complete the project. In total, one reactor building equals half a terabyte of information. That’s a whole lot of data.
The benefits of this virtual reality tool are practical. You can point the controller at a piece of equipment, and then another. The exact distance from each piece of equipment appears in your vision.
“Despite their size, reactor buildings don’t have a lot of extra space,” metrologist Brad Medlin said. “Exact measurements are important when implementing new structures or equipment.”
“Prior to this tool, people would have to go into the reactor building during an outage to get needed measurements. If you didn’t get it during the outage, you were out of luck until the next outage. Now, you can ‘walk into’ containment at any time to get the measurements you need,” he said.
There are many other uses for the tool inside the reactor building, such as finding valve tags, identifying as-built reactor coolant system level instrumentation and as-built documentation.
“It’s really a game changer for modification planning and maintenance planning,” Medlin said.