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Southern Nuclear and Plant Vogtle recognized for digital innovation

Vogtle Unit 3 control room soon after becoming operational. Increased use of online monitoring allows control room personnel to focus on plant operations rather than relying on periodic manual surveillances.

A combination of two Southern Nuclear project teams won a Top Innovative Practice (TIP) Award from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) for the development and use of continuous online monitoring of digital components that will further enhance safety and efficiency of nuclear energy facilities. 

To earn the prestigious award, a plant operator must demonstrate that a new, enhanced or improved process or technology has been created and successfully implemented, improves plant performance and is transferrable to the rest of the industry. 

Plant Vogtle 3 & 4 personnel worked with Westinghouse and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to replace select manual tests and inspections with a digital system that uses automatic and redundant self-diagnostic features.

“This innovative use of modern technologies reduces operator and technician workload during normal operations as well as during refueling and maintenance outages,” said Vogtle 3 & 4 Operations Director Tom Arnette. “This program will also enhance nuclear safety and reliability by reducing the potential for human error.”

“The conventional approach to testing analog control and protections systems involves labor-intensive testing of equipment,” said Dennis Spielman, the Vogtle 3 & 4 Digital I&C Design manager. “The new digital systems at Plant Vogtle 3 & 4 provide additional self-checking features and automated diagnostics that perform the same checks as manual surveillances but on a more frequent and continual basis.” 

This new approach, recently approved by the NRC, is a first-of-a-kind precedent for both the Southern Nuclear fleet and the industry. “This success was attributed to extensive technical and licensing preparation as well as effective communications with our partner Westinghouse prior to submitting the amendment request,” said Vogtle 3 & 4 Licensing Supervisor Stephanie Agee.

Southern Nuclear, partnering with Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation (AMS), also implemented a continuous online monitoring transmitter drift program that is helping to extend calibration intervals at Plant Vogtle. Transmitters convert sensor signals that are channeled into specialized control systems to operate equipment and display critical plant parameters.

The new method can determine which transmitters are experiencing possible performance issues and then perform calibrations for the appropriate transmitters. Online monitoring involves retrieval of real-time data, which is then analyzed for changes that may occur over time – also called drift – to ensure that facility transmitters are operating properly.

“This new and innovative program will provide a more efficient, cost-effective and less error-prone approach and is transferable to other nuclear stations,” said Monitoring and Diagnostic Center Manager Randall Olson. “In fact, we are already sharing details about these continuous online monitoring practices with the nuclear industry.”  

This year’s award, which marks Southern Nuclear’s fifth TIP Award since 2016, also includes personnel from Westinghouse and AMS.