by Chris Staubus
ANS held its annual Utility Working Conference in Amelia Island, FL August 4th through 7th with the theme, Innovating for a Sustainable Nuclear Future. There is no need to explain to professionals in our industry that the cycles of boom and bust have been evident throughout most of our careers. The Nuclear Renaissance seemed to have evaporated in the US with little more than a whimper but impacting thousands of careers. So, the theme of the conference was appropriate if not timely.
There were plenary sessions with industry leaders speaking on the conference theme. Marilyn Kray, current ANS President and Exelon Vice President of Nuclear Development and Strategy spoke at the first plenary along with Steve Kuczynski, CEO of Southern Nuclear. Steve spoke on the journey SNC has been on in pursuit of customer focused innovation. This focus is boiled down to treating the customer well. That means improving reliability of power supply, having favorable regulatory treatment, improving safety record and meeting customer expectations which includes a goal of “Low-to-no carbon generation by 2050.”
Steve went on to discuss how SNC was pursuing “Delivering on the Nuclear Promise” with innovation and culture changes. Some of the pursuits include: saving over $1 million on outage in-processing, development of accident tolerant fuels, improved knowledge transfer (specifically calling out SNCs addition of second simulators at their sites), application of risk informed and performance based principles, establishment of the SNC Monitoring and Diagnostic Center, and investments in advance reactor designs. He closed his discussion with an update on Vogtle 3 and 4 progress, challenges and initiatives. With Unit 3 flushing anticipated to be finished this December, Hot Functional Testing is to begin in the Summer of 2020 with fuel load in November of that year. Unit 4 is to follow about one year later. In his discussion of Vogtle he presented his own challenge to the audience. He was initiating a loaned leader program for SNC to be modeled after INPO’s loaned executive program, whereby vendors, consultants and utilities would loan SNC leaders to support completion of units 3 and 4. The benefit to the company loaning the executive would be once in a lifetime leadership experience. The benefit to SNC would be help and support. He is looking for no more than about 100 such loanees. This innovative approach has possibilities.
In addition to the plenaries, there were numerous breakout sessions and displays in the exhibit hall focused on innovation and technologies. Discussion of regulatory innovation was prominent. As the NRC was challenged to fulfill its mission with a budget reduction, they are focusing on regulatory actions and processes the produce the greatest safety return for the effort. This includes focusing on risk-informed approaches to regulation and greater reliance on probability and risk assessment (PRA) modeling.
The first UWC was held at Amelia Island in 1994, and set up as a means for utility managers and staff to get together and share insights, experiences and ideas. The conference has changed over the years applying technology and innovations such as the conference app in lieu of the conference magazine. Just as ANS is adapting, the commercial nuclear power industry must adapt and innovate to continue to be relevant. Regulated businesses have difficulty with this in that there is much to slow the pace of innovation. It doesn’t seem we have time to waste to improve this business and the targets of opportunity are less apparent then they were in 1994. It will take creativity and new thinking to push innovation in new areas. Accident tolerant fuels may hold a key, but we must look at our processes and culture to innovate in the meantime.