Virtual reality in the nuclear industry11 August 2021
The nuclear industry is embracing virtual reality technology to optimise its operations and improve safety, as a recent white paper from Tecknotrove Systems explains.
While nuclear power plants are usually very safe and secure, they remain prone to severe accidents or production losses due to human errors. Virtual reality (VR) makes it possible to create realistic and immersive training environments relating to nuclear power plants to train operators on how to perform the tasks safely. VR training allows operators to practice various situations - such as emergency evacuation, plant operation, fuel handling, leaks and fires - in a virtual site. As the simulated environments feel extremely realistic, it creates a highly immersive experience to teach the right response in difficult situations.
Maintenance training of turbines
Periodic inspection and maintenance of a turbine generator are very important. However, conducting hands-on training in maintenance of the turbines and engines in a nuclear plant can be a challenge, thanks to the time it takes, the risks and the costs involved. VR makes it possible to train for the maintenance engineers in a more engaging and safer manner without the hassles of finding the actual equipment to use during training. From assembly to dismantling of turbines, through repair, a virtual environment helps technicians to go through various steps of training and see all the parts working together before they do it in a real plant.
Operator training for control room operations
Training operators to handle crucial functions in the control room of a nuclear plant is critical. VR has proved to be an effective and efficient training tool.
In order to enhance users' understanding of nuclear reactor principles, a virtual reality system based on a simulator can be developed to interface with the scenarios in nuclear power plants. With VR, a nuclear plant can provide an immersive training experience to its operators without affecting the safety of the power plant. Using VR, owners can simulate everything from basic operations to emergency situations, with real-life stress factors to make the training very realistic.
Nuclear power plant orientation
Entry to a nuclear power plant is restricted and not often open to young engineers or visitors. VR allows engineers to perform the activities within the plant, freely navigating it to develop a better understanding of the orientation of the plant without compromising safety.
Virtual tours of nuclear power plants allow visitors to experience the control room, dive down to the reactor, or head to the turbine hall and switch yard.
Decommissioning of nuclear plants
Providing training for decommissioning nuclear power plants is a lengthy process. VR gives a sense of what it is like inside the reactors in reality. It is serving a critical role in training teams to decommission the reactors. VR training can help nuclear power plant workers at decommissioning sites by familiarising them with the relevant steps in a safe and controlled environment. Training set up in highly realistic environments can help prevent accidents. Using VR for decommissioning training is also cost-effective, since operators need disposable protective gear for physical training, which can be extremely expensive. In some countries, decommissioning authorities have also started using VR-powered decommissioning solutions, as robots can work faster and they are unaffected by continuous exposure to radioactive elements.
It is necessary to train the operation and maintenance crews for fuel handling systems in a nuclear power plant. Safe handling of fuel assemblies is important to ensure smooth functioning. However, the configuration of the fuel channels is complex, and training the engineers in real life can be tricky. Through computer simulations, VR provides a safe and highly realistic environment where they can learn about handling fuel without exposing themselves to radiation or compromising the structural integrity of the reactor.
Scenario-based training for emergency preparedness
Preparing for accidents and emergencies that may occur at a nuclear power plant is a necessity. Laws in each country require nuclear operating companies to develop and maintain emergency preparedness plans for their nuclear power plants to protect the public. However, planning and managing such training can take up a considerable amount of time and resources. This is where training in a simulated environment is important. Emergency situations - loss of electric supply, failure of emergency generators, failure of cooling system or leaks - can be recreated in a virtual environment for training and testing purposes. Virtual environments allow users to test the correct operation of the devices, tools and procedures that would be employed in different emergency situations, and it helps to maintain the level of preparedness of the staff that would be involved with these emergencies.
Additionally, VR makes it possible to test the response time and the communication and decision-making skills of the teams in emergency situations that could not be created in real life.
Most of the nuclear industry still primarily uses traditional training methods - computer based training, with limited sessions of on-site training. As a result, the engineers are not always certain about what needs to be done in real life or in an actual environment.
VR enables creation and simulation of virtual worlds. These worlds immerse trainees in the virtual environment as if it were an actual nuclear power plant. In a VR environment, trainees can move around the plant under complete safety. VR controllers allow the trainee to interact with virtual control panels, turbines and fuels in the virtual world, which is not possible in real-life training. VR training thus results in higher reproducibility and safety.
It is also cost-effective, since multiple sessions can be conducted at relatively low cost . Studies have shown that VR-enabled training has improved the overall responsiveness of those working at nuclear plants.
Future of VR in the nuclear industry
The best thing about VR is that it enables real-time collaboration and creates an accurate immersive environment. For assembly, operations, maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear power plants training through VR can be used at all stages at a fraction of the cost of other options and in complete safety.
The nuclear industry can use VR training to increase efficiency and maximise operations. It is a safe way of training teams and attracting young workers to the industry.
Tecknotrove Systems one of Asia’s leading VR simulation companies offers customised solutions to nuclear power plants in areas of Radiation Safety, Environment Monitoring, Radiation Security, Air Monitoring and Emergency Management to solve the real challenges faced by the industry. Some of its existing clients include Department Of Atomic Energy, BARC, NPCIL to name a few.