By: Gerry Davina
The modernization of plant automation controls represents a step change in performance that optimizes Operations and Maintenance resources, shifting their focus to performance maintenance and plant monitoring and away from inefficient corrective maintenance and troubleshooting.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average age of the U.S.-based nuclear power plant is approximately 38 years old. Three of the “youngest” plants (Watts Bar, Nine Mile Point 2 and River Bend) all began construction in the mid-1970’s with their designs approved years earlier. In terms of industrial control systems, this means that most, if not all, of the plants in the U.S. nuclear fleet, continue to operate with 1970s in automation equipment and technology. Although it can be argued that the equipment and technology have proven to stand the test of time, the reality of the digital age, with low cost and high-powered processors, is that relay-based control systems are long-obsolete and no longer practical for any automation system that requires more than a handful of relays and switches. In an industry that has publicly advocated a commitment to improved reliability and efficiency, ironically, the most evident impact for any plant with the continued use of 40-year-old automation equipment and technology is poor system reliability and inefficiency burdening both Operations and Maintenance resources.