How to step inside a nuclear reactor without leaving your chair

Nuclear workers use virtual reality to collect needed data

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.

Mikayla Kreuzberger (right) using a virtual reality headset with guidance from Brad Medlin (left) at Oconee Nuclear Station's World of Energy
Mikayla Kreuzberger (right) using a virtual reality headset with guidance from Brad Medlin (left) at Oconee Nuclear Station's World of Energy

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.

Brad Medlin demos the virtual reality tool
Brad Medlin demos the virtual reality tool

“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.

Comments (7)

Posted July 22, 2018 by David Yoh
One of the radiation reduction programs initiated at Oconee, in the late 70's, was to have a photo album of all valve locations in the reator containment. The program was cumbersome but somewhat useful. Wow, if we would have had a VR program, as explained above, valve / component locations would have been a breeze to locate in the maze of pipes, machinery, and bundles of valves. Well done Duke Power!
Posted March 23, 2018 by Duke Energy
This experience is not currently available to the public but we are working on ways to offer virtual plant tours in the future. We agree it would be a great educational tool!
Posted March 22, 2018 by Jenny Taylor
This is such awesome technology. I'm so happy that Duke Energy is making advancements like this to improve work function and flow!
Posted March 21, 2018 by David Weller
I was amazed at the first scanning of the Containment buildings before the steam generator replacements in 2003 and 2004. This is much better. Way to go Brad. Good to see how far you are bringing this technology.
Posted March 21, 2018 by Tom Myers
Any business unit in the company that needs any type of metrology support (laser scanning, 3D modeling, 3D printing, as-built, interference detection, layouts, site survey, ect) contact myself to discuss ways in which we can help you. All departments can benefit from our services (projects, maintenance, operations, training, ALARA, planning, scheduling engineering) at significant savings compared to vendor services.
Posted March 21, 2018 by THOMAS F READETT
Wow - as a retired employee of 37 tears at ONS, I can appreciate the opportunities the virtual reality tour brings to component, system, and design engineers. Is a version of the virtual reality experience available for the public to experience a "Reactor Bldg. Tour" from the confines of the World of Energy? I could see this as a great opportunity for visitors to take tours of not only containment, but also the Turbine Bldg levels (Basement, 3rd level, and Turbine Deck).
Posted March 21, 2018 by Bill Meldrum
This is the best radiation protection tool that's come along for a while.

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