NPIC&HMIT 2021 plenary: Digital I&C and the advanced reactor future

June 16, 2021, 7:01AMNuclear News

The pace of advances in nuclear instrumentation, controls, and human-machine interface technologies and their deployment has increased in recent years and are essential to achieving the enhanced safety and improved economics of advanced reactors.

Recent successes, lessons learned, and opportunities in implementing digital I&C in advanced nuclear reactors were discussed during the opening plenary on June 14 of the 12th Nuclear Plant Instrumentation, Control and Human-Machine Interface Technologies (NPIC&HMIT 2021) meeting, held in conjunction with 2021 ANS Virtual Annual Meeting.


Peterson: Opening the plenary was Per Peterson, chief nuclear officer of Kairos Power and professor of nuclear engineering at the University of California Berkeley, who discussed the role of university research in enabling advanced reactor technologies and the opportunities to garner lessons from other industries and technologies in modernizing nuclear I&C systems.

Peterson focused on the benefits of automation in advanced nuclear power operations, saying that a good place to look for examples of modernized automation is within the Fourth Industrial Revolution, commonly called Industry 4.0, which is automating manufacturing and industrial practices.

In particular, Peterson said that the availability of OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA), a machine-to-machine communication protocol for industrial automation, has great potential for advanced nuclear operations. “I think it’s interesting to think about what the implications may be for more extensive for OPC UA for nuclear power I&C systems,” he said.

Peterson also pointed to the autonomous systems used by SpaceX in controlling rocket launches and recoveries and Tesla’s use of data collection as other examples of potential lessons that can be applied to NPIC&HMIT.


Schuppner: The plenary’s next speaker, Suibel Schuppner, director of the Office of Nuclear Energy Technologies within the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, provided an overview of the department’s research into advanced reactor technologies.

Schuppner began by noting that there has been a surge of interest in advanced nuclear power, with a number of companies working on new reactor designs. A key benefit of all this work is that it will lead to increased U.S. economic growth and “many new jobs,” she said.

“All these advanced reactors will require new advanced digital I&C technologies,” Schuppner said, adding, “There’s a need to understand this new environment and an opportunity help design the I&C infrastructure needed to support them.”


Benner: Closing the plenary was Eric Benner, director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Division of Engineering and External Hazards, who discussed regulatory issues pertaining to digital I&C. Quoting NRC policy (SECY-19-0112), Benner said that the NRC’s vision for digital I&C is to have “a clear regulatory structure with reduced regulatory uncertainty that enables the expanded safe use of digital I&C in commercial nuclear reactors while continuing to ensure safety and security.”

Among the work the NRC is doing to make the licensing of advanced reactors more efficient and predictable, Benner said, is upgrading its licensing guidance. This includes issuing the NRC’s design review guide for non-light water reactor I&C (“Instrumentation and Controls for Non-Light-Water Reactor (non-LWR) Reviews”), which he said captures lessons learned from the design review and certification of NuScale’s small modular reactor and provides a flexible regulatory review process for non-LWRs.

Benner also noted that the NRC’s interim staff guidance for digital I&C was revised to reduce uncertainty. The guidance also allows for an alternative review process, he said.

Finally, Benner said that the revised NRC Branch Technical Position 7-19 provides a risk-informed, graded approach to evaluating defense in depth in relation to common-cause failure resulting from software errors or failures.

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