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Oconee Nuclear Station Wins Top Plant International Awards

Insight Web Extra

December 2009—The Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca, S.C., has won several awards recently for technical innovations.

POWER Magazine last month recognized it as a top plant for its digital instrumentation modernization program.  More recently, the plant received two international honors for money-saving innovations in pump efficiency.

Oconee began operation in 1973, and like most nuclear plants that were built in the 1970s and 1980s, its instrumentation and control systems were analog-based.  State-of-the-art though these systems may have been at the time, there have since been been quantum jumps in digital control technology.

Workers at Oconee are completing a 10-year program to upgrade the plant’s 1970s-vintage instrumentation and control systems to state-of-the-art digital technology.  In doing so, Duke Energy has become an industry leader in addressing associated technical and regulatory issues.  The team has completed digital upgrades on several control systems, including the integrated control system and those for the main turbines, control rod drives, main generator voltage regulation, process control and automatic feedwater isolation.

Regulatory approval for digital upgrades to the reactor protection system and the engineered safeguards system is expected this year.  Together, these upgrades are successfully addressing long-term plant reliability and original equipment obsolescence issues.

Dave Baxter, Oconee site vice president, says, “Our nuclear power plants have seen dramatic improvements in reliability in the past two decades—we now generate emissions-free power more than 90 percent of the time.  The digital upgrade program has played a major role in this improvement by simplifying operations and eliminating unnecessary shutdowns.  Many of these changes are the first of their kind in the nuclear industry.”

Meanwhile, Oconee was recognized overseas for “the best pump technical innovation of the year.”  Senior engineer Lew Beck designed and implemented a handheld tool that uses a laser beam to place reference marks on pump bearing housings, allowing oil levels to be correctly set and helping to prevent pump failures.

Beck received his award at the 2009 Pump Industry Awards Ceremony in Coventry, England.  “This tool is extremely accurate and easy to use, and will make Oconee Nuclear Station even more efficient,” he said.  A Duke Energy press release said that by applying Beck’s innovation to just eight pumps at the plant, the company would save $58,000 annually.

Oconee also received a finalist mention at the same ceremony for developing methods to increase pump efficiency and reduce energy consumption.

Duke Energy Corp.’s Oconee Nuclear Station has three pressurized water reactor units, each of 885 megawatts installed capacity.  Units 1 and 2 began commercial operation in 1973, and Unit 3 began operation in 1974.