Virtual Control Room Helps Halt Nuclear Disaster

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Bringing nuclear power plants into the 21st Century often means replacing aging analog systems with digital technologies. But making that transition is not a simple swap, what with nuclear catastrophe being the consequence of even the smallest of errors.

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In effort to prevent such scenarios, the Department of Energy has built the Human System Simulation Laboratory (HSSL) at Idaho National Laboratory. As a full-scale, virtual nuclear control room, the new simulator can test the safety and quality of proposed technology replacements before being retrofitted in commercial nuclear plants.

The HSSL includes 15 state-of-the-art touch screens capable of virtually duplicating the control rooms of any nuclear reactor. Because they’re reprogrammable, the screens can reproduce hundreds of analog control boards. Nuclear control room operators interact with these simulations and can be observed by design engineers, who study human response to normal and emergency situations. That way, engineers know if any tweaks need to be made before installing their new systems in real control rooms. Collaborating with the project is the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), which carries out research and development for the electric industry.

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“The HSSL provides the ability to rapidly develop prototype control-room modifications, get early feedback from control-room operators, and test new designs with realistic plant scenarios before the designs are built,” Joseph Naser, EPRI project manager and technical executive, said in a statement. “This will allow the designs to effectively and reliably meet the goals of the plant owner and will reduce the cost and time to implementation.”

Credit: Idaho National Laboratory