Recently at CONTE 2017, the American Nuclear Society’s Conference on Nuclear Training and Education, GSE hosted a panel discussion of experts utilizing what the industry has dubbed a “full-scope virtual simulator” to enhance their nuclear plant training programs. The panelists included representatives from some of the most recognizable utilities in the industry, including Duke Energy and Exelon Corporation.
It’s no secret that plant operators often experience burnout at some point in their careers, opting for maintenance or other positions instead of the shift work that comes with operations. Not having to work a 3rd shift for simulator time is an invaluable benefit. Perhaps the most universally preached and recognized benefit of the full-scope virtual simulator was quality of life.
Compared to the well-known “glasstop” or VPanel™ simulators, a full-scope virtual simulator is a more robust representation of your NRC approved simulator/nuclear power plant’s control room. These simulators represent the entirety of your plant’s hard panel controls on virtual touchscreens. They offer a cost-effective alternative to developing a second full-scope hard panel simulator with instrumentation and controls.
During the panel discussion, we explored the benefits of the full-scope virtual simulator. Panelists were asked how incorporating the simulator has improved their training and operations. All panelists agreed that the number one reason plants choose a full-scope virtual simulator is simulator availability for non-operations training.
This post compiles the twelve plus benefits stated during the panel. We’ve grouped them by capacity, cost of implementation and flexibility.
1. ‘Requal’ Training
Operators can practice an entire cycle of requalification training, without credit, before undergoing credited requalification. This frees up time for final testing on the main, NRC certified simulator.
2. Practice Job Performance Measures (JPMs)
Licensed operators and potential licensed operators have more time to walk through the NRC JPMs.
3. Auxiliary Operator Initial and Continuing Training
Non-licensed operators can become involved in more “Whole Crew” scenarios on the simulator. The interaction between auxiliary operators and the control room operators increases team building. Operators can work on communicating procedures for configuration control and provide more realistic timing for plant operations training.
4. Emergency Plan Development
Operators no longer have to juggle the hard panel simulator schedule to develop the EP Drill Scenario.
5. Developing Teamwork and Appreciation
Equipment operators can see what the control room operators are doing and why certain actions take as long as they do. This transparency leads to better emergency support procedures training and a greater appreciation of teamwork.
6. Proactive Training
Full-scope simulation adds bandwidth, enabling trainers to focus on high failure manipulations and hard to control operations that students struggle with.
7. Procedure Validation
Procedure writers are now allotted the time necessary to verify and validate (V&V) their new or revised procedures before challenging them in the plant. Dry running procedures lowers the chance of faulty or inadequate procedures being used in the plant.
8. Procedure Walkthrough
Availability allows for coveted Just In Time Training before performing an Infrequently Performed Test or Evolution (IPTE). Practicing what to expect and how to respond reduces errors and the potential for equipment damage, injury to personnel, violation of a technical specification, etc.
9. Engineering Failure Analysis
Because the panelists’ simulators incorporate high-fidelity engineering grade models, which are currently being installed in many simulators, they can be used to support engineering analysis, an area that has been traditionally underutilized in simulation. Simulation testing reduces the likelihood of errors later in the design and implementation process.
10. Maintenance Requalification
With the full-scope simulator, operators can bring other training programs into the control room for focused training, which was never possible before on the heavily scheduled hard panel simulator.
11. I&C Maintenance
Panelists saw improved operational focus in other groups at their plant. For example, maintenance pre-job briefs demonstrated the importance of the equipment surrounding what was being worked on. This improved operational excellence by giving them a better understanding of their environment, the equipment’s function and its purpose.
12. Engineering Support Program (ESP)
The additional bandwidth gives the engineering team more time on the simulator for control room training and operationally focused processes.
- Because of the flat panel design, the unit supervisor couldn’t see what the operator was doing as well as they can on a hard panel unit. Therefore, they had to improve verbal communications.
- Simulation required operators to “slow down” and be more deliberate. It takes them a bit longer to perform certain functions, allowing for a better questioning attitude and more focused learning.
- Not every piece of instrumentation is on the soft panels. Therefore, they were required to use alternative indications to make decisions. This helps broaden the operators’ understanding of the plant.
While GSE and many of our industry peers have known for some time now that there are numerous benefits to virtual simulators, this panel discussion opened many eyes and minds to varied, unexpected, and expanded use cases for full-scope virtual simulators.
Duplicating a plant’s simulator (whether in whole or in part) via virtual simulators can provide desperately needed work-life balance for the operators while also saving time and money for the utility. They can decrease overtime spend and get tasks accomplished more quickly.
Duke Energy believes so strongly in their results with their full-scope virtual simulator that they plan to approach the NRC for approval in support of licensed operator training. NRC supporting this change aligns with the forthcoming ANS/ANSI 3.5 revision, allowing for licensed operator credit via part task simulators.
 Thank you to all of the panelists.
- Bruce Hennigan, Operations Training Program Manager, Corporate, Exelon Corporation
- Mark Similey, Operations Training Manager, Brunswick Nuclear Generating Station, Duke Energy
- Rich Drehs, Supervisor Initial License Training, H.B. Robinson Nuclear Generating Station, Duke Energy
- Rick Garner, Operations Training Manager, Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, Duke Energy