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Perspectives

Augmented reality applications

In nuclear power plants

Augmented reality (AR) devices are revolutionizing many industries; nuclear utilities do not need to be an exception. On the contrary, nuclear utility companies often have several problems for which these new technologies are well suited to help resolve.

Background on commercial augmented reality technologies

  • Complex maintenance and paper based procedures: To mitigate the inherent complexity of performing maintenance on nuclear power plant systems, procedures are often written to account for a large array of initial conditions and scenarios. As a result, the intricacies of the procedures reflect the complexities of the plant.
  • Problem solving teams: When a piece of equipment in an NRC-licensed plant exhibits unusual behavior, it may violate a limited condition of operation specified by the plant's technical specifications (TS) as defined by a code of federal regulations (10 CFR 50.36). In such a situation, the licensee "shall shut down the reactor or follow any remedial action permitted by the TS until the condition can be met."
  • Radiation: Nuclear utility workers have a rare complexity of needing to conduct their jobs in environments which have appreciable background levels of radiation. The philosophy regarding radiation exposure to nuclear utility operators is referred to as the "ALARA policy" and is based in the linear no-threshold model, which assumes that any radiation exposure, no matter how slight, carries a proportionate risk. The ALARA policy generally states that exposure should stay "as low as reasonably achievable."

Barriers of entry and potential solutions

The nuclear field has several factors which potentially create barriers to implementing some technological features. Several of the barriers which must be overcome to implement such a technology are:

  1. Regulation: Nuclear operating companies are subject to strict oversight which may create an obstacle to change. Some of the organizations which may have oversight for nuclear utilities include: Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Electric Power Research Institute, Institute of Nuclear Power Operators (INPO), Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited.
  2. Cost incentives in competitive electricity pricing market: Nuclear utility companies may be unwilling to absorb the front-end costs of a "nice to have" piece of technology when trying to compete with low-cost competitors, such as natural gas, especially for utilities operating in competitive market states. 
  3. Shared operating experience: Because INPO shares operating experience, plants may be incentivized to wait for another competitor to implement a change and benefit from the shared experiences the competitor will share with them through INPO. As stated by INPO "…we communicate lessons learned and best practices throughout the nuclear power industry." Risk of switching systems: The new method simply may not work as well.
  4. Difficult to assess opportunity cost: There is no holistic direct relationship between the implementation and the amount of money it will save. Planned outages are a substantial potential source to leverage AR to improve profitability.
  5. Security: Cyber security is a high priority in nuclear power plants. Internet of Things potentially complicates this.
  6. Connectivity: Connectivity is typically difficult in nuclear power plants. Plants are constructed with a lot of concrete, which is effective at shielding electromagnetic radiation as well as radio waves from communication devices.
  7. Cost of entry: The power plant would need to install the communication devices at the plant, many of which have no internal communication devices other than phone lines and PA systems.
  8. Radiation and contamination: Contamination makes expensive equipment a liability. Bringing more material into a contaminated area introduces the possibility of creating radioactive material. One potential fix is the use of plastic sleeves to protect the AR device.
  9. Battery life: Standard battery size is unlikely to outlast the painstaking maintenance routinely performed at nuclear power plants. This may be mitigated by housing an auxiliary battery in hardhat.
nuclear plant
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