WASHINGTON—Employees at STP Nuclear Operating Co. were awarded the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Top Industry Practice (TIP) Award today for their creativity and use of high technology to enhance safety and reduce costs in maintaining used fuel storage racks.
The STP Nuclear team won the TIP Best of the Best Award, as well as the Westinghouse vendor award, for its Boraflex removal project at the South Texas Project nuclear power plant southwest of Houston.
The award was announced at the Nuclear Energy Institute’s (NEI) annual conference being held here. Established in 1994, the TIP awards recognize nuclear energy industry employees for innovations that improve safety, economics or plant performance in nine categories. Other employees receiving awards represented South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., Exelon Corp., Entergy Nuclear Southwest, USA Alliance, and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear, LLC.
Most nuclear power plants built since 1975 use Boraflex in the form of removable panels in used fuel racks to absorb neutrons in fuel storage pools. But over time, radiation from used fuel caused the rubberized Boraflex in the racks to become brittle. The panels dissolved and released silica into the used fuel pools, affecting operations and refueling outages, and increasing maintenance costs by $25,000 per month.
The STP team found that use of cameras and specially designed tools from the refueling bridge would be the best method to remove the Boraflex panels while the racks remained underwater. The technique eliminated injury risks to divers as well as potential damage to fuel or pool liners. Removing the panels, instead of re-racking the used fuel pools, produced an initial cost savings of more than $16 million. As a result, used fuel pool filters now are replaced every six months rather than monthly. In addition, de-mineralizer resin will be replaced every other year rather than every eight months.
“The TIP Award recognizes those professionals who have taken the initiative to innovate and develop better practices that have positioned the nuclear energy industry as one of the safest, best-operated and most productive in the country,” said Joe Colvin, NEI president and chief executive officer. “The contributions and commitment to excellence displayed by this year’s winner, and by other men and women throughout the industry, have resulted in growing recognition by the public and policymakers of the critical need for nuclear energy as a component of America’s energy supply.”
Framatome ANP, GE Nuclear Energy, Westinghouse CE and Westinghouse presented the four vendor awards. NEI also presented awards in five process categories: plant operations; equipment reliability; work management configuration control; administrative support and training; and materials, fuel and support services.
Employees at South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. received the Framatome ANP Vendor Award for detecting a first-time development of a crack on a hot-leg nozzle weld that an inspection mechanism did not reveal. The company was recognized for a nozzle leak repair and corrosion cracking evaluation during a refueling outage at the Virgil C. Summer plant. Through its investigation, analysis and corrective actions, the Summer plant team developed contingency plans that can act as a template for other nuclear operators and save the industry millions of dollars.
Exelon was recognized with the GE Nuclear Energy Vendor Award for applying its experience maintaining older plants to future maintenance scheduling in newer plants. The result is a fleet-wide, long-term asset management plan designed to preserve the continuing safety and economic viability of all its plants. Several years ago, an Exelon-GE team created a Web-based data tool that collects maintenance information from GE’s global fleet of boiling water reactors (BWR). The database is updated after each refueling outage season with new maintenance records. This approach greatly reduces unanticipated problems during outage inspections.
By accessing the Web database, other BWR plant operators can adopt this asset management strategy across the industry. As a result, inspections and repairs could be successfully completed during short outages of as few as 25 days.
The fourth vendor award, from Westinghouse CE, went to Entergy Nuclear Southwest for developing a laser-based remote inspection tool to inspect the metal liner structure of its containment buildings at the Arkansas Nuclear One (ANO) plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission instituted rule changes in 1996 requiring all nuclear power stations to perform extensive inspections of the containment buildings.
Realizing that off-the-shelf equipment would not work at the ANO facility because of the dome’s high elevation, the company combined state-of-the-art optical aids, a specialized camera and a customized laser system that allowed it to measure objects at the required distance to within three-thousandths of an inch.
Entergy also was recognized in the process award category for elimination of the Post Accident Sampling System, or PASS, at Arkansas Nuclear One. The Entergy team determined that emergency planning efficiency could be improved by relying on non-PASS methods to determine the extent of reactor core damage?methods that are also prompt and most likely more accurate than data obtained from PASS. Cost savings to ANO are substantial, approaching $1 million in capital expenses and $100,000 per year.
The four other TIP Process Award winners include:
Exelon won the TIP Process Award in the materials, fuel and support services category for a recirculation jet pump riser pipe repair at Quad Cities 1 in Illinois. The repair involved a unique new concept consisting of a clamp with 28 integral pins. These fit precisely into corresponding holes in the riser pipe to completely seal the break. The development of a new electrical discharge machine tooling technique allowed GE to burn consistently precise holes in the riser pipe. By implementing a permanent repair that essentially replaces the original weld, the team restored it to the original as-designed plant, maintaining the design safety margins and eliminating the need for special future inspections of the repair.
Exelon employees also won in the category of work management and configuration control for the accomplishments of its steam generator high impact team at Braidwood station in Illinois. Team members set out to achieve an aggressive station outage schedule of 17 days and a total man-rem goal of 94.8 rem. To accomplish its goal, the team needed to complete critical path eddy current inspections of all four steam generators in fewer than nine days, with a total project dose of less than 24 rem. The team successfully completed its critical path work in six and one-half days at a total dose of less than 19 person-rem. Both of these performance measures set new Exelon records and the refueling duration of 15 days, 16 hours established a new U.S. record.
USA Alliance employees were honored with the TIP Process Award in the administrative support and training category for creating a standardized method to address NRC’s revised 10 CFR 50.59 rule. The revised regulation applies to the conditions under which reactor licensees may make changes to their facilities or procedures without prior NRC approval. The USA project took the NRC-endorsed industry guidance and developed the tools to implement the rule at the plant level. In all, 11 USA Alliance companies and three non-member utilities participated in a program to develop standardized procedures and guidance to support 50.59. Once developed, the products became available to the entire industry through NEI.
A Calvert Cliffs Nuclear LLC team won the TIP Process Award for equipment reliability for its integrated risk management process. By using integrated risk management tools to improve electricity production and prevent outage schedule extensions, Calvert Cliffs has realized savings of roughly $12 million. The tools also played a role in Calvert Cliffs’ record generation of 13.8 million megawatt-hours.
“There have been more than 400 TIP Award entries since the program’s inception in 1994, and each innovation and process improvement acts as a catalyst that speeds us further along the road to excellence,” Colvin said. “We take satisfaction in our accomplishments but will never become complacent. No matter how well we do something, we always can do it better.”
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org .