Preparing for Expected Growth in Nuclear Power Plants

by | Apr 16, 2008 | Industry, Power Generation, Safety

Jim Cahill

Chief Blogger, Editor

My spy utility, WatchThatPage, alerted me to another good article, this time on the Fisher control valves and regulators area of the Emerson website. The article, Getting ready for the nuclear renaissance, from the April issue of Valve World magazine, features Bill Fitzgerald, director of the Fisher Valves nuclear business unit.

As more and more people around the world climb the economic ladder, the global demand for energy continues to grow. A nuclear power renaissance is underway, according to Bill driven by:

…issues like global warming and a desire for energy independence… It can never be the only solution, but it is a logical part of the solution.

Bill describes his team tracking forty U.S. projects. He estimates two-thirds of these will actually be built. The first ones may come on-line as soon as 2015. Bill describes the large engineering firms as well as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staffing up anticipating the work required to completely design, build and commission the first wave of these plants over the next seven years. This expected growth is by no means limited to the U.S.

As part of this process, the engineering firms’ procurement people need to identify and begin to purchase the long-lead items like reactor vessels, which may take three years from order to delivery. Control valves also fall into this long-lead item category. As Bill explains:

…control valves have long lead times because the ASME has just issued new qualification requirements. So to use a valve in a given safety related application will probably require 18 months of qualification testing. We also have to factor in ever-tighter seismic requirements. Then materials procurement, machining, assembly and testing will probably take an additional 9-18 months, depending on valve type. So, we believe that if we get an order today for a nuclear grade valve it could take as long as three years to actually deliver it to the end user.

And Bill notes that these valves are used in safety critical areas. Not having them will delay the startup of the plant. Based upon this expected global increase in nuclear power plants, Emerson and other automation suppliers are increasing their capabilities to meet this demand.

Technology has changed greatly since these types of plants were built in the U.S. a generation ago. Bill describes digital technologies like Foundation fieldbus, which can be used in the balance of plant applications to provide better control and diagnostic information. Devices like digital valve controllers have completed Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)-certification for use in this demanding application.

As energy producers seek ways to meet the increasing global energy demand, these preparatory activities are critical to meet challenging project schedules.

Update: I was just pointed to a great Béla Lipták article, The Third Industrial Revolution by a member of our DeltaV Twitter community. Béla describes the post fossil fuel world based on solar power and the role of process automation. It’s well worth your read and I look forward to his book due out in August.

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