In its classical definition, risk is defined by three elements: what can go wrong, what are its consequences, and how likely is it to occur? While this definition makes sense in a regulatory-based framework where for the current fleet of operating light water reactors (LWRs), the risks associated with nuclear power plants typically are characterized in terms of core damage and large early release frequency (LERF), this approach does not provide a useful snapshot of the health of the plant from a broader perspective. This is due to the very narrow context in which the term “risk” typically is defined as nuclear safety aspects that have the potential to impact public health. In this paper, we take the viewpoint of nuclear safety that is reflective of the current fleet of operating LWRs for which core damage frequency and LERF are appropriate metrics. For other advanced reactor designs, other more applicable technology neutral metrics of reactor safety metrics would be specified.

A possible alternate path would start by redefining the word risk with a broader meaning that better reflects the needs of a system health and asset management decision-making process. Rather than asking how likely an event could occur (in probabilistic terms), we can ask how far this event is from occurring. Our approach starts by defining and quantifying component and system health in terms of a “distance” between its actual and limiting conditions, i.e., determination of the margin that exists between the current state/condition and the state where the component/system is no longer capable of achieving its intended function. A margin is a measure that is more reflective of the current state or performance of a component, and therefore more closely tied to decisions that are made on an ongoing basis. We will show how, given the data available from plant equipment reliability and monitoring (e.g., pump vibration data) and prognostic (e.g., component remaining useful life estimation) data, a margin can be described and determined for all types of maintenance approaches (e.g., corrective or predictive maintenance).

We show how classical reliability models (e.g., fault trees) can be used to quantify the system margin provided component margin values. In the approach described in this paper, the propagation of margin values through classical reliability models are not performed using classical probabilistic calculations applied to sets (as performed in a typical plant probabilistic risk assessment). Instead, we show how it is possible to propagate margin values through Boolean logic gates (i.e., AND and OR operators) through distance-based operations.