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Nuclear Energy Institute
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 11, 2011
Contact: media@nei.org, 202.739.8000 or 703.644.8805 (after hours and weekends)

TVA Employees Win Top Innovation Award for Improving Nuclear Fuel Safety Efficiency

Entergy Employees Awarded for Tungsten Shielding Breakthrough

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) employees at the Browns Ferry nuclear energy facility in Alabama have been honored with the B. Ralph Sylvia “Best of the Best” Award for developing a state-of-the-art method to prevent reactor fuel rod defects. Using real-time stress monitoring of the sealed tubes that hold the uranium fuel pellets, a new methodology called XEDOR has proven highly effective.

Five years ago, the industry established a goal to eliminate by the end of 2010 fuel rod defects that could release radionuclides from fuel pellets. Some damage is caused by the interaction between fuel pellets and the metal tube material called cladding. The phenomenon can result in additional costs to utilities, affect plant operation and subject personnel performing repairs to additional radiation exposure.

Working with AREVA, the winning TVA team implemented a new methodology that performs real-time, on-line stress calculations for every six-inch fuel rod segment in all parts of the reactor core. It is the first method that can calculate how close fuel rods are to cladding damage, thus ensuring fuel integrity performance.

The user-friendly methodology is incorporated into the core monitoring system, and provides the plant operating staff with fuel condition information that can be easily understood and applied. This method has reduced fuel leaks, increased reactor productivity, and avoided millions of dollars in additional costs.

The Best of the Best Top Industry Practice (TIP) award was presented today at the Nuclear Energy Institute’s annual meeting. The awards recognize industry employees in 14 categories—four vendor awards, nine process awards for innovation to improve safety, efficiency and nuclear plant performance, and one award for vision and leadership. The Best of the Best Award honors the late B. Ralph Sylvia, an industry leader who was instrumental in starting the TIP awards in 1993.

TIP VENDOR AWARDS

• Exelon Nuclear employees earned the AREVA Vendor Award by developing a tool that improves the reliability of instrument air line connections that help control many plant components.

Instrumentation air lines are metal tubes that direct pressurized air to control equipment. The winning team investigated performance issues with tube fittings and developed recommendations for eliminating failures in the fittings. The team determined that overtightening and overuse of the fittings could be remedied by developing a fitting gauge to ensure proper installation and timely replacement of the fittings.

Thanks to the innovation, Exelon’s nuclear plant sites have seen a dramatic reduction in instrument tube fitting issues, including eliminating component failures over a three-year period. The company has saved more than $408,000 in maintenance costs.

• Exelon Nuclear employees at the LaSalle County power station in northern Illinois were awarded the GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Vendor Award for collaborating with GE Hitachi on the design, construction, testing and installation of a Rod Control Management System that more precisely positions control rods and monitors their placement in the reactor.

The new integrated system displays a detailed map of the control rods with a digital touch screen. It has faster scan capabilities and retains information about control rods’ previous position.

The entire system was installed in just five days during a refueling outage at the LaSalle plant and has performed all control rod manipulations. The system’s enhanced capabilities—including the ability to isolate rods for troubleshooting without affecting other rods—save maintenance resources and increase plant safety and efficiency.

• The Westinghouse Design Vendor Award was won by Southern Nuclear Operating Co. employees at the Farley nuclear plant in Alabama for their innovative reactor coolant pump shutdown seals that greatly reduce seal leakage and enhance safety at the plant.

Reactor coolant pump seals are necessary for safe operation of a pressurized water reactor to help prevent reactor coolant loss in severe events.

To combat the possibility of a loss of coolant accident, the winning team developed a first-of-a-kind shutdown seal called the Shield. The Shield is activated by heat and provides a leak-tight seal if cooling for the reactor coolant pump seals is lost. The design causes the seal components to constrict and reduce flow. The shield can be installed easily and does not require additional modifications to the reactor coolant pump.

Installation of the Shield significantly improved the Farley facility’s safety margin. When factored into risk calculations, it reduced the estimate for fuel damage by 40 percent, more than all previously implemented design changes combined.

• Omaha Public Power District team members at Fort Calhoun Station in Nebraska garnered the Westinghouse Combustion Engineering Design Vendor Award by looking back 10 years to determine the future of critical metal components at their plant.

The Omaha Public Power District team devised a method to accurately track the development of microscopic “stress corrosion” cracking in nozzle welds for large pipes attached to the reactor vessel.

To achieve this technical advance, the team monitored surface changes of the metal over a 10-year period. By comparing the material condition and trending data, the team was able to determine the current status of the material, predict when granular cracking would take place and plan when to replace the components.

The team enhanced nuclear safety by monitoring the assurance of material condition of plant components and detecting flaws, thus lowering the probability of leaks and reducing worker radiation doses thanks to less frequent examinations. To date, their program has reduced expense for unnecessary nozzle replacements by more than $2 million.

TIP PROCESS AWARDS

• Tennessee Valley Authority employees at Browns Ferry Nuclear in Alabama were honored with the Fuel Process Award and the nuclear energy industry’s B. Ralph Sylvia Best of the Best Award for developing a new method to prevent reactor fuel rod defects as described above.

• Duke Energy employees at the Oconee power plant in South Carolina earned one of two Maintenance Process Awards for improving automatic oilers for rotating mechanical equipment. The team recognized the importance of precisely setting the automatic oilers that lubricate numerous pieces of equipment.

Duke Energy developed a laser-guided handheld tool that is small, easy-to-use and inexpensive. The laser-guided tool ensures accuracy by generating a bright red line, which is projected onto the bearing housing to serve as a visual reference. Its ease of use means that the time required to check oil levels has dropped to about 30 seconds from five to 10 minutes.

Setting or checking oil levels with the new tool improves the reliability of rotating equipment. With millions of automatic oilers around the world in all industries, this new method is widely adaptable at nuclear energy facilities and other industries.

• Exelon Nuclear employees at the Braidwood Generating Station in Illinois won one of two Maintenance Process Awards for finding a safe solution to establishing an electrical connection between two points in a circuit. Installed incorrectly, “electrical jumpers” can lead to inadvertent actuation of equipment or even cause the plant to automatically shut down.

To avoid such errors, the team developed a device that can be fixed to the terminal blocks before any jumper-related work takes place. Using the contact tester mitigates the hazard of shocks, flashes or fires that can harm workers and stems the possibility of equipment damage, eliminating the need for subsequent repair work.

Each device is made out of the same material as bulletproof vests, making it sturdy yet lightweight and portable.

• The winner of this year’s Community Relations Process Award is PSEG Nuclear for its state-of-the-art Energy and Environmental Resource Center at the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear station.

The Energy and Environmental Resource Center presents a balanced view of the opportunities and challenges of various sources of electricity generation. By emphasizing the role of nuclear power within a diverse energy portfolio, the winning team strengthened its reputation in the community as a source for reliable information on energy issues.

Exhibit elements educate visitors on issues ranging from the basics of electricity generation to the impact of technology, lifestyle and policy on energy use. Visitors can view a model of a reactor core or an energy-efficient house. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to calculate their personal carbon footprint or learn the answers to frequently asked questions.

Additionally, the winning team has worked to bring elements of the energy center to other nuclear energy plants. Standardized modular exhibit designs have been made available to the industry, allowing other companies to save time and money as they connect with their own communities to increase public awareness of nuclear energy.

• Exelon Nuclear employees at Byron power station in Illinois won the Equipment Reliability Process Award for their development of chemical injection during power operation that reduces iron buildup in heat exchanger tubes and helps maintain plant efficiency.
 
Iron can build up in the heat exchange tubes of the steam generators, reducing the efficiency of the transfer of heat and lowering power output by the plant. Injection of an iron dispersant into the water that goes through the heat exchange tubes slowed iron accumulation in the steam generators. The reduced need for tube cleanings lowers the radiation dose to workers who clean sludge deposits from the component.

• Entergy employees at Arkansas Nuclear One won the Materials and Services Process Award for creating tungsten radiation shielding that effectively protects both equipment and personnel. The innovation has been used in Japan in response to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power station.

The new material shields piping and surfaces effectively and economically, and also has been fabricated into a radiation-shielding vest that workers wear—a breakthrough application. Made primarily from tungsten with iron metal powder immersed in a silicone polymer, the material is flexible, heat-resistant, nontoxic and nonhazardous.

The tungsten vest is a major advancement. Traditionally, the industry has only thought to “shield the source” of radiation. Now “shielding the person” can be done in a lightweight and effective way to reduce exposure on an individual level and provide industrial safety value.

Tungsten shielding is twice as effective at lowering exposure rates as lead and saves more than $300,000 per maintenance outage.

• Entergy team members at the Indian Point Energy Center in New York earned the Operate Plant Process Award through their development of an equipment hatch closure plug that enhanced safety during refueling outages and saved both time and costs.

The 13,000-pound plug was developed to achieve timely closure of the reactor containment building while maintenance work is being done within the reactor. It is installed using a forklift, aided by remote cameras.

Effective use of the equipment hatch plug has resulted in a reduction of more than 100 hours of critical path time during each outage and more than $5 million. The innovation also helped reduce worker exposure during the most recent Indian Point outage.

• Employees of American Electric Power at the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant in Michigan won the Plant Support Process Award for its comprehensive groundwater protection modeling software. The software was developed to maintain safety and enhance public confidence.

To enhance communications when there is leakage of tritium or other materials at plant sites, the winning team pioneered the use of comprehensive groundwater protection monitoring software. The software can display 3D modeling of the site’s systems, structures and components in relation to tritium leakage. The highly interactive software allows for vast amounts of information to be efficiently managed and easily interpreted. Most significant are its predictive and investigative abilities, which can identify the potential sources of a leak and the potential impacts it may have—information that can result in better public and environmental protection.

By enhancing the ability to visually communicate detailed information, the groundwater monitoring software also is an effective tool for communicating about tritium.

• NextEra Energy employees were honored with the Management Processes and Support Services Process Award for their initiative that improved operating efficiency and encouraged greater employee engagement at all of the companies nuclear energy facilities.

The new program, Low-Value Work Reduction, improves fleet performance by finding better ways to accomplish routine work and focus existing resources on higher-value activity. Unlike some stand-alone management programs, the new program takes a holistic approach to improving performance by redirecting existing resources to deliver greater value.

A cornerstone of the initiative is to directly engage employees by soliciting their improvement ideas regardless of position or title. The best of the hundreds of ideas generated through the program are regularly spotlighted for all employees. 

The Low-Value Work Reduction program has been implemented at every NextEra Energy nuclear power plant. At the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire, an adjustment in safeguards testing resulted in a shorter refueling outage. At the Duane Arnold nuclear energy facility in Iowa, budget overruns that affected site work were corrected.

• FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. employees at its BETA Laboratory in Ohio were recognized with the Nuclear Training Process Award for developing a Fire Extinguisher Simulator to supplement live firefighting training.

The team developed a training program based on the use of a fire extinguisher simulator for personnel to hone their skills in various training scenarios. The simulator uses sensors to track the spray path of the fire extinguisher. It adds realistic details, recreating the roar of the flames and the kick of a fire extinguisher being discharged.

The simulated exercises can be repeated to practice proper firefighting techniques without any of the safety risks of live fire training. This efficient and successful training simulation has qualified a greater portion of the staff for fire-watch duty, freeing up technical, operations and maintenance personnel for other core duties, which can improve outage efficiency.

In the past six years, FirstEnergy’s BETA Lab has trained more than 31,000 people in 2,100 sessions using the fire extinguisher training simulator, including 9,000 workers at nuclear energy facilities.

TIP VISION & LEADERSHIP AWARD

• Employees at Exelon Nuclear’s Clinton power station in Illinois are recipients of the Vision & Leadership Award for their pioneering development of the development of the Isotope Test Assembly project. By simultaneously generating power and creating a widely used medical isotope—cobalt-60—the Exelon Nuclear team is addressing an urgent international medical need.

Cobalt-60 is used in noninvasive cancer therapy, with more than 15 million treatments each year in 80 countries. Cobalt-60 also is used in medical instrument sterilization, food preservation, package decontamination and pharmaceutical purification.

The United States imports 95 percent of the cobalt isotopes that it uses for such purposes. To maintain a steady supply of isotopes to satisfy demand for necessary nuclear medicine procedures, the Exelon Nuclear’s team is working to create cobalt-60 in a commercial reactor during normal power generation.

To produce the isotope, cobalt-59 “targets” are added to some fuel assemblies in the reactor. During reactor operations, cobalt-59 atoms absorb neutrons and are transformed into cobalt-60 isotopes. The isotope rods are removed and shipped to a processing facility after several operating cycles. Cobalt-60 then is available for medical and other health and safety applications. The first commercial supply of cobalt-60 from Clinton will be available in 2014.