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CMMS and maintenance for the nuclear industry

CMMS and maintenance for the nuclear industry

Wednesday 08 june 2022

The nuclear industry was born in the middle of the 20th century, after the Second World War, as a result of several decades of research and inventions made around the world since the end of the 19th century. From the discovery of uranium, to radioactivity, to the neutron and the atomic bomb, the first nuclear power plant designed to produce civilian energy appeared in 1954 in the Soviet Union. The main process used in the nuclear industry is the fission of uranium atoms. These atoms release heat, which heats water. The steam produced then allows the operation of a turbine connected to a generator for the production of electricity.

Today, the rate of global energy production from nuclear power is still well behind coal, natural gas and hydroelectric power, but well ahead of other existing energy sources. The nuclear industry will continue to grow in the years to come, especially with the emergence of new technologies and production processes. This sustained trend responds to the world's ever-increasing electricity needs and recent geopolitical conflicts that have led to ever-increasing pressure on fossil fuel prices, while at the same time fitting in with the plan to be carbon neutral by 2050

As players in this sector, who use nuclear energy or help produce nuclear energy, it is essential that you comply with the standards in force and maintain your assets impeccably to guarantee your objectives and the safety of your production. The role of the CMMS is to accompany and guide you in this work. But how can a maintenance tool be used in the nuclear industry?

The nuclear sector

Let's remember that nuclear energy uses uranium to operate. Uranium is considered a rare mineral, and while it is not a fossil fuel, it is not a renewable energy. But what is it? According to its definition, it is a non-renewable decarbonated energy. Indeed, the exploitation of nuclear energy does not emit carbon dioxide at the time of fusion. Apart from the other actions carried out for the deployment of nuclear power (extraction, transport of ores, etc.), this energy seems to be integrated, for some countries, in the electricity mix allowing to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Alongside renewable energies, we will see that this behemoth of energy production continues to develop with the maintenance of existing nuclear power and the construction of new plants (new nuclear power). According to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), nuclear energy in the world should increase by 15% by 2030.

It should also be remembered that the nuclear industry includes all the players who provide the equipment and services needed to build, supply and operate the nuclear power plants that produce electricity. These players are numerous and are involved in the extraction of uranium 235 and 238, the enrichment of ore, the transportation of fuel, and the manufacture and distribution of electricity. The use of nuclear technology is beneficial to the production of electricity, but not only. In fact, irradiation is used in the field of agriculture and medicine. Nuclear technology is also used to power spacecraft and water desalination plants. Nuclear technology is also used in the military for the production of atomic weapons, ships and submarines with nuclear reactors.

As far as nuclear plants are concerned, the German statistics portal Statista counts 441 nuclear reactors in operation worldwide in 2021 and many more are under construction. These reactors produce about 11% of the world's electricity and come mainly from the United States, France, China, Russia and South Korea. In France, there are currently 58 nuclear reactors in 19 plants. According to EDF, the production in France was 360.7 TWh in 2021, which represents about 70% of the country's total electricity production. According to the RTE 2021 report, only 20% of the final energy would be distributed on the French network. The rest of the energy would be redistributed through the interconnection of the European electricity networks.

France appears to be a major player in the distribution of nuclear energy from its border countries. It is also in the south of the country, near Aix-en-Provence, that the R&D project, ITER, was born. This global scientific partnership, conceived since 1988, includes China, Europe, Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States. Together, these countries are trying to move nuclear power from fission of ore to fusion, which should produce almost no waste while producing more energy. This new plant will have to wait a few more years before it is operational. In addition to fusion, several other nuclear innovations are being studied. These include Small Modular Reactors, Fast Neutron Reactors, Thorium Reactors and Molten Salt Reactors.

While nuclear power continues to evolve, it is important to note that the history of the industry is marred by the problems of nuclear waste and nuclear accidents. Although rare, these accidents are devastating. Examples of such disasters include Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima Daiichi in 2011. The first Ukrainian plant had one of its reactors explode due to a design flaw and human error and the other in Japan suffered a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. These cases, and others not mentioned, raise the question of the safety of the plants and their proper maintenance. Can this ensure a better public image for the nuclear industry?

Maintenance in the nuclear industry

Like any other industry, the nuclear industry must have efficient maintenance in order to make the most of its activity. This maintenance allows to reinforce the security of the assets necessary for this operation and to obtain good returns on investment. A well-maintained nuclear power plant avoids technical failures which, in the case of nuclear power, have dramatic consequences. To achieve this, many professionals are involved in the nuclear industry: welders, boilermakers, computer specialists, electricians, engineers, automation specialists, physicists, etc. These numerous teams work together in a safe manner to ensure rigorous and planned maintenance. Safety standards, technical reports and IAEA safety review services, among others, help member states achieve these goals.

In a nuclear power plant, maintenance missions include preventive and corrective actions to verify that each asset performs its functions perfectly. These missions are mainly overhaul, repair and replacement of components. All this is followed by testing, calibration and inspections during commissioning. In addition to these self-assessments, there is a safety review and asset evaluation to continue to benefit from its operating license.

This maintenance is performed on every asset in a nuclear power plant. This includes the nuclear reactor, steam generators, pressurizer, cooling pumps, steam turbine, generator, condenser, condensate-feedwater system and all the various safety systems. Here we find the reactor protection systems, the essential service water system, the emergency core cooling systems, the emergency power systems and the containment systems. In order to organize all these maintenance tasks and to avoid human errors, it seems important to centralize everything in one place. This is where CMMS comes in to help the nuclear industry. But what are the concrete advantages of such a tool? 

The contribution of CMMS for the nuclear industry

To meet strict regulations and controls, ensure the safety of personnel and the plant in general, more and more power plants are turning to computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS). Thanks to the daily implementation of all the data recorded by the different departments of the nuclear industry, the CMMS software will contribute to reinforce the safety and optimize the productivity of the plant. Indeed, the software's analyses and the KPIs it provides will enable it to propose proactive maintenance operations.

In concrete terms, the CMMS provides your teams with a detailed maintenance schedule to guide your technicians as much as possible (practical sheets, images, videos, tools and PPE required, etc.). This planning allows you to prioritize tasks while providing crucial information on interventions. Well-maintained machines can operate longer and in optimal conditions. This reduces maintenance costs and delays the purchase of new equipment. In this preventive maintenance approach, the CMMS tool automates the work orders of your teams, while allowing them to be prepared for any inspection.

Finally, the joint work of new sensor technologies and the CMMS allows you to access the data of your machines in real time and to receive alerts in case of possible future failures. This is called condition monitoring and predictive maintenance (PdM). This will allow your technicians to have the time to intervene quickly.

Conclusion

We see here the interest of using a CMMS tool to guarantee an optimal maintenance of your assets. This guarantee is even more important in a sensitive industry such as nuclear. Maintenance can thus ensure the quality and reliability of safety and allow the longevity of your plant. It is important to know that the heavy investments required and the need to have a staff with a high level of skills, pushes the life of a plant to its 80 years.

Nuclear power must remain competitive in the face of innovations in the electricity market. And this, all the more so in a context of climate change and pollution reduction. CMMS, nuclear power and technological innovations still have a bright future for nuclear power and we are very curious to see its evolution.

To discover how CMMS is an essential ally of renewable energies, we invite you to read the articles:

 

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