Nuclear plants rely on a large number of pumps, valves, cables, circuit breakers, and other mechanical, electrical, and instrumentation and control equipment to operate safely, reliably and cost-effectively. Keeping this equipment operating at high reliability depends on the successful implementation of carefully designed operations, maintenance, repair, and replacement practices by properly trained plant personnel. EPRI’s equipment reliability research develops various tools and techniques that nuclear plant and engineering personnel can apply to increase overall plant reliability and safety.
A variety of techniques are employed in the nuclear power industry to inspect materials for potential indications of cracking or degradation. For example, the same basic ultrasound technologies that are used to monitor a baby’s health during pregnancy are deployed in the nuclear power industry by experienced practitioners to assess the health of plant components and welds. EPRI develops, tests, and evaluates new inspection technologies and practices for use in challenging applications, such as underground piping and complex geometries. Information from these inspections is then used to inform strategic decisions on whether and when to replace components, repair them, or continue their operation.
The materials used in an operating power plant are exposed to conditions that can potentially impact their structural integrity, particularly as the plant ages. Understanding how such degradation may occur in various materials – at what rate and under what conditions – helps inform nuclear plant design and operation. EPRI develops inspection and evaluation guidelines for identifying potential degradation, assesses mitigation technologies for preventing further degradation, and conducts fundamental research on new materials with enhanced properties for maximizing useful plant life.
An informed, rational assessment of risk can contribute to safer and more cost-effective nuclear plant operation. By focusing attention on those plant systems and equipment with the highest risk to plant and personnel safety, nuclear plant operators can fully incorporate the relevant technical factors into decisions about plant maintenance, modifications and procedures. EPRI risk and safety research helps quantify risks from within the plant’s systems and from external hazards, including earthquakes, floods, fires, tornadoes, and security threats. Continuous refinement of the models used to analyze risk is necessary to ensure that decisions based on these models reflect industry operating experience and current computational advances.