Enabling or disruptive technology for nuclear engineering?

INDEA couple of weeks ago [see ‘Small is beautiful and affordable in nuclear power-stations’  on January 14th, 2015] I ranted about the need to develop small modular reactors whose components can be mass-produced in a similar way to the wings, cockpit, tail-planes, fuselage and engines of an Airbus aeroplane that are manufactured in factories in different countries in Europe prior to final assembly and commissioning in Toulouse, France. The aerospace industry is heavily dependent on computer-aided engineering to design, test, manufacture, operate and maintain aircraft in a series of processes involving a huge number of organisations. The civil engineering and building services industries are following the same model through the introduction of BIM, or Building Information Modelling. I have recently suggested that the nuclear industry needs to adopt the same approach through an Integrated Nuclear Digital Environment (INDE) that has the potential to reduce operating and decommissioning costs and increase reliability and safety for existing and planned power-stations but more importantly would enable a move towards mass-production of modular power-stations.

Recently I presented a paper at a NAFEMS seminar on Modelling and Simulation in the Nuclear Industry held on November 19th 2014 in Manchester, UK.  To judge from the Q&A session afterwards, the paper divided the audience into those who could see the enormous potential (the enablers?) and those who saw only massive problems that rendered it unworkable (the potentially disrupted?). The latter group tends to cite the special circumstances of the nuclear industry associated with its risks and regulatory environment. These are important factors but are not unique to the industry. From my perspective of working with many other industrial sectors, the nuclear industry is unique in its slow progress in exploiting the potential of digital technologies.  Perhaps in the end, as one of my academic colleagues believes, research on solar power will produce such efficient solar cells that even in cold and cloudy England we will be able to meet all of our power needs from solar energy [given incoming solar radiation is about 340 Watts/square meter], in which case perhaps the nuclear power industry will become extinct unless it has evolved.

Schematic diagram showing the digital environment (second column from left in purple), its relationships to the real-world (left column in red) and the potential added value (third column from left) together with exemplar applications (right column). Coloured arrows are processes and coloured boxes represent physical (red) or digital (purple) infrastructure.

Schematic diagram showing the digital environment (second column from left in purple), its relationships to the real-world (left column in red) and the potential added value (third column from left) together with exemplar applications (right column). Coloured arrows are processes and coloured boxes represent physical (red) or digital (purple) infrastructure [from Patterson & Taylor, 2014].

The diagram is an extract from Patterson & Taylor, 2014.  The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily of those of his co-authors on other publications, or their employers.

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