About every 18 months, nuclear power plants must remove spent fuel and replace it with a fresh supply, a process that requires a scheduled outage. These necessary periods of downtime are extremely costly – lost revenue is lost revenue. Additionally, the utility company must contend with the equipment and staffing costs of the outage itself.
Due to the intricacies involved in such an undertaking, plants plan outages at least a year in advance. The outage managers responsible for ensuring everything runs as smoothly, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible are under enormous pressure. They must protect workers from radiation while simultaneously observing budgetary and time restrictions. The robustness of the teams they oversee is critical to meeting these requirements. With this in mind, we took a look at several types of engineering contractors essential to facilitating the safe, streamlined completion of these routine outages.
Project controls specialist
For the project controls specialist, numbers are the name of the game. People in this role leverage software such as Primavera to determine the cost and labor hours associated with each phase of a project, then use these extrapolations to monitor progress as work advances.
An outage manager has a lot riding on the success of planned downtime. A project executed on time, on or under budget and free of safety infractions is considered a triumph, while one that takes more time than expected, is over budget or compromises the health of workers is not only a reputation-ruiner for the manager but a failure for the plant. Strategy is the backbone of a successful outage. The outage planner is responsible for putting together work schedules that cover everything that needs to be done, maximize productivity and mitigate waste while upholding procedure and observing compliance requirements.
Duty outage manager
The duty outage manager engages in close project monitoring by supervising the execution of planned work, performing problem-solving exercises and schedule adjustments when necessary, providing progress updates to superiors, preparing teams for upcoming tasks and dissecting completed efforts with the goal of realizing future efficiency gains. This supervision is broken down into short increments of time so progress can be measured against benchmarks.
Oversight outage manager
If the duty outage manager takes a “zoomed-in” approach to project-monitoring, the oversight outage manager’s role can be characterized as “zoomed-out.” Essentially, people in this position are charged with overseeing and assessing outage activities as a whole, with the goal of making the entire process more efficient while affirming compliance with regulations.
Non-destructive testing technician
Although the primary purpose of an outage is to replace spent fuel with fresh reserves, plants also use this time to replace and/or refurbish equipment, as well as conduct routine infrastructure testing. This is where non-destructive testing technicians come in, as they are charged with ensuring structural integrity. Because reactors undergo a great deal of stress due to the amount of energy, vibration and heat generated by reactions, their walls eventually succumb to thinning. Non-destructive testing technicians deploy X-ray technology to gauge the thickness of these walls without performing invasive procedures, as well as conducting other similar structural examinations.
Radiation protection specialist
By necessity, workers who assist with outage operations must venture into areas of the plant where they risk being exposed to elevated levels of radiation. It is the radiation protection specialist’s job to ensure this does not occur by requiring all employees to carry radiation monitors and observe stringent procedures, such as those related to donning and doffing radiation suits.
These six highly skilled roles, often staffed by contractors, all require in-depth knowledge of nuclear codes and procedures, previous experience doing outage work and meticulous attention to detail. Augmented outage staffing firms are able to provide outage managers with skilled contract workers who can help plants ensure safety and reduce the length and cost of downtime.
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