How upgrades help Oconee Nuclear Station operate efficiently

As every HGTV addict knows, upgrades are the key to maintaining the value and functionality of a home.

And, just as a homeowner might replace an old air conditioner or update a kitchen with new appliances, our nuclear workers continuously perform preventive maintenance, install new equipment and implement new technology at our nuclear plants.

An exterior view of Oconee Nuclear Station
Oconee Nuclear Station, which began commerical operation in 1973

Oconee Nuclear Station, which began commercial operation in 1973, proves that a nuclear plant built nearly five decades ago can still operate efficiently and reliably thanks to strategic upgrades. Here are a few examples of equipment and systems replaced at Oconee in the past 10 years.

Oconee was the first plant in the nation to upgrade from analog to digital the systems that monitor the reactor and reactor coolant system (the reactor protection system and engineered safeguards protection system). While the digital systems “look and feel” the same as the old ones, they are more efficient in performing real-time monitoring and calculations of inputs like temperature and pressure. They can also automatically act to mitigate problems if they occur.

Duke Energy also replaced steam generators and reactor vessel heads for all three units as part of ongoing maintenance. The new steam generators help Oconee more efficiently take water heated by fission and generate steam to make electricity.

In addition, Oconee has embraced new technology to boost worker productivity. For example, workers are using 3-D printed models to improve training and virtual reality technology to obtain needed measurements for modification and maintenance planning.

Whether it’s upgrading diesel generators with more reliable electronic starting mechanisms at Brunswick Nuclear Plant or

Robinson Nuclear Plant's control room glasstop simulator
A view of Robinson Nuclear Plant's control room glasstop simulator

installing a first-of-its-kind control room glasstop simulator to train operators at Robinson Nuclear Plant, this process of continuous maintenance is reflected throughout the Duke Energy nuclear fleet.

Systems and equipment are replaced before a problem occurs in a process known as preventive maintenance. By using digital infrastructure, equipment health can be monitored in real-time so maintenance and upgrades take place when needed, rather than on a fixed time scale. This further streamlines the upgrade process and helps our nuclear plants provide even more electricity for our customers.

With the increasing use of technology-based appliances at home, it may not be too long before your refrigerator tells you when it’s time for your next appliance upgrade.

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