POWER TOOLS: Nuclear's Digital Pandemic Response

Connected worker solutions are being launched by some nuclear power companies via a mobile digital system that will allow workers to access remote experts which in turn limits the time needed for them to be on-site. The digital system empowers utilities with the ability to reduce on-site personnel, while at the same time providing on-site connections to important resources many miles away. Not only does this mean fewer people in crews with direct or close constant, but these practices can also help optimize their performance.

Not every utility facility is constructed under the same parameters, so the system was developed to offer plenty of flexibility so that individual utilities can establish a system that works for them from the ground up, or customize an existing “digital ecosystem”. Some available features are designed to enhance workforce safety, and others allow for integration to other digital devices and platforms which can assist in managing individual projects and/or entire workforces.

This “smart” technology can prove extremely valuable to the nuclear industry. Along with its ability to keep employees safe in these challenging times, the comprehensive nature of the safety monitoring and data analysis system can actually help plants improve their safety protocols while remaining cost-competitive. In fact, this connected worker technology has already proven to be an important asset at several utilities during scheduled refuelling outages.

Nuclear energy plants have been designated as critical infrastructure due to their importance in the continuous operation of the power grid which is absolutely vital to an effective pandemic response. But as the coronavirus pandemic is predicted to generate infection spikes well into the fall and winter seasons, utilities have had to continue to adapt. At present, the United States has 94 nuclear power plants that are relied upon to provide reliable, carbon-free energy. This past spring, COVID-19 created a significant challenge for efforts to refuel a number of nuclear reactors across the country. Many valuable lessons were learned during that time, and they will need to be reviewed and reemployed as the industry prepares to refuel another two dozen reactors.

Obviously, the nuclear energy industry is required to minimize the spread of coronavirus during refueling, but that’s easier said than done when you consider that a nuclear plant is a hands-on workplace that employs hundreds of workers. Also, during refueling, they bring in hundreds more individuals for maintenance and inspections. Luckily, recent technological innovations have allowed nuclear service companies to operate remotely but many worker are still required to operate on-site, forcing the industry to change certain scheduling shifts in order to keep some employees together consistently in teams to reduce the chances of transmitting the virus.

In addition to the worker connection technology, plants have continued to employ basic—but still critically important—changes to workflow protocols like decontaminating the buttons and switches, remaining at six-foot intervals, and requiring masks on-site. It’s always critical to the success of nuclear operators that they are able to work together across the industry, and remote technology has proven to be very valuable in this regard. From sharing information on how to screen visitors and workers to how best to use personal protection equipment, finding a way to close the distance—in particular during the pandemic—has never been more important.  

Even when a plant is implementing teleworking, video meetings or conference calling to connect their expert resources, or setting up screening points prior to people entering the plant, maintaining electric generating station condensate water at a very high purity level remains among the highest of priorities. Fortunately, Graver has the experience and knowledge to address those concerns with an impressive array of innovative condensate polishing products.