Virtual control room helps nuclear operators, industry

Aug 08, 2013
The Department of Energy's new Human System Simulation Laboratory at Idaho National Laboratory is a full-scale virtual nuclear control room that can test the safety and reliability of proposed technology replacements before they are implemented in commercial nuclear control rooms. Credit: Idaho National Laboratory

Modernizing nuclear power plants to help extend their operating lifetimes is no small task. But the endeavor offers an opportunity to improve control-room design and layout.

The Department of Energy's new Human System Simulation Laboratory (HSSL) at Idaho National Laboratory is a full-scale virtual nuclear control room that can test the safety and reliability of proposed technology replacements before they are implemented in commercial nuclear control rooms. The facility is now helping Duke Energy embark on an upgrade project for several of its nuclear plant control rooms.

This one-of-a-kind control room simulator is specifically designed to facilitate digital renovation of existing plants, which predominantly use analog systems. The INL lab also enables scientists to improve control-room designs by studying human interactions with the instruments and responses to alarms.

"The goal is to provide industry with a capability to understand and test how proposed changes to existing instrumentation and control systems will affect their plants," said Richard Reister, manager of the Department of Energy's Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) Program in the Office of Nuclear Energy. "This will allow better design and digital upgrades with less risk of potential unforeseen problems."

The virtual control room was funded as part of the overarching DOE LWRS Program, and INL contributed Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding toward the new capability.

The project began in 2010 to support updating of control-room alarm systems. However, researchers quickly realized that full control-room modernization was necessary to achieve the highest safety goals. The HSSL lab can now extensively evaluate operator performance and safety risks of a new control-room interface before it is installed in an active plant.

The Department of Energy's new Human System Simulation Laboratory at Idaho National Laboratory is a full-scale virtual nuclear control room that can test the safety and reliability of proposed technology replacements before they are implemented in commercial nuclear control rooms. Credit: Idaho National Laboratory

INL's control-room simulator is a hybrid facility that mimics both digital and analog systems, which typically support physical controls such as valves, gauges, keyboards and touch screens.

The HSSL includes state-of-the-art glass-top touch-sensitive panels. These virtual controls are fully reconfigurable to duplicate control rooms of any operating nuclear reactor. The displays can reproduce hundreds of analog control boards, which real nuclear operator crews can interact with.

Design engineers observe these interactions and study human responses to normal and emergency situations in newly formatted control rooms. Such information can help enhance operator control and situational awareness.

The full-scale, 15-panel simulator was fully completed in March, though operator crews from HSSL's industry partners had begun running initial simulations with the technology in November.

"There is no other research facility in the world like this focused on control-room modernization," said Ron Boring, principal investigator for the Pilot Project on Control Room Modernization. "We're already developing prototypes that are demonstrating the benefits of new technologies at . Modernizing these control rooms is hugely exciting research that also fills an important need in industry."

The HSSL is currently running three plant control models, with most development efforts focused on Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in North Carolina, the first of many simulations for industry partner Duke Energy as the company begins a fleetwide digitizing of its nuclear plants. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)—which conducts research and development for the electric industry— is collaborating in HSSL's research.

"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," said Joseph Naser, EPRI project manager and technical executive. "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."

As the HSSL is used to gather data, the simulation results will be available for any company in the nuclear industry to use in control-room modernization, said Bruce Hallbert, an LWRS program manager.

The simulation lab team is currently working on prototype digital displays that would convey chemical balance, turbine control and other important plant information not captured on the current panels. The objective is to introduce information that can help human controllers maintain their situational awareness, particularly during emergencies.

"The goal of control room modernization is to replace aging analog technology," said Hallbert. "We want to enhance the functionality and safety of operating nuclear power plants by leveraging the capabilities of new digital technologies."

Explore further: CASL milestone validates reactor model using TVA data

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

CASL milestone validates reactor model using TVA data

Jul 10, 2013

Today, the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL) announced that its scientists have successfully completed the first full-scale simulation of an operating nuclear reactor. CASL ...

French nuclear designers tap American expertise

Jun 11, 2013

The world's nuclear experts have reached out to U.S. Department of Energy engineers for help evaluating a new nuclear reactor design that could increase safety margins while reducing waste.

Nuclear-power industry's lessons for health care

May 06, 2013

At first blush, the health-care and nuclear-power industries don't appear to have much in common. But in a unique, two-day workshop in July 2012, leaders from these two industries met to discuss their similarities and differences, ...

New cybersecurity tool suite demonstrated

Aug 30, 2012

A new suite of cybersecurity software tools is being demonstrated at Idaho National Lab this week. The tools will help the electric utility industry protect their control system networks from cyber attack.

Recommended for you

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

Apr 16, 2014

( —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Neuroscientist's idea wins new-toy award

Apr 15, 2014

When he was a child, Robijanto Soetedjo used to play with his electrically powered toys for a while and then, when he got bored, take them apart - much to the consternation of his parents.

Land Rover demos invisible bonnet / car hood (w/ video)

Apr 14, 2014

( —Land Rover has released a video demonstrating a part of its Discover Vision Concept—the invisible "bonnet" or as it's known in the U.S. the "hood" of the car. It's a concept the automaker ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Aug 08, 2013
This reminds me of the cars that have computerised engine control management, vs. the old style bicycles that have solid rod brake linkages.

These people are button pressing morons.

What is REALLY needed are large Frankenstein style levers and switches, with plain infallible mechanical linkages and shut down / over ride systems / and coolant flooding etc.., with all the fail safes set to switch off the core at a moments notice.

The computers and screens are only good, while they are working.

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

( —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...