Tag Archives: Refurbishment

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Rolling Out Refurbishment with Reliability and Skills Development in Mind

In just a few short months, Ontario will begin refurbishing 10 nuclear reactors at the Darlington and Bruce Nuclear Generating Stations. Refurbishment means replacing key reactor parts, such as pressure tubes, so the reactors can keep operating safely and at peak performance.

Refurbishment has been planned far in advance. It will extend by decades the lives of reactors that have already provided affordable and reliable electricity to Ontarians for 25 years. And because nuclear plant operations do not emit greenhouse gases, they are also addressing Ontarians’ growing concerns about climate change.

Keeping on schedule

Just as with renovating your home or servicing your car, scheduling the refurbishments is key to minimizing inconvenience. After all, nuclear reactors provided 62% of Ontario’s electricity in 2014, and refurbishing each reactor takes two to three years. Having too many of them offline at the same time would lead to brownouts in the power grid, or force Ontario to buy more expensive – and potentially less clean – electricity from other sources.

Ontario’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan, which set the refurbishment program in motion, recognized these challenges. The decision to refurbish reflects three of the five core principles of the Plan: cost-effectiveness, reliability, and clean energy.

To ensure reliability, the Plan set out a sequence for refurbishment at both the Darlington and Bruce facilities:

CNA-100 Nuclear Timeline-D4 (2)

This sequence ensures that no more than three reactors are offline at the same time. It allows spacing of the refurbishments so that the teams of engineers and other skilled professionals can learn from each refurbishment. That will help them to improve their methods and generate cost savings. During the early part of the project, up to 2020, Ontario will keep operating its reactors at the Pickering facilities.

Long-term benefits

The spacing of refurbishments over 15 years will ensure that nuclear power remains the major source of Ontario’s baseload power – the foundation of the province’s electrical supply. It will also provide lasting employment to skilled workers who will have opportunities to continue working on the reactors they helped refurbish – contributing to Ontario’s economy and growing the province’s skills base.

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What’s it Like to Work Inside a Nuclear Power Plant?

The planned refurbishment of 10 of Ontario’s nuclear reactors is going to help keep electricity prices low in Ontario. It’s a big project that will take 15 years to roll out – and it’s expected to create more than 10,000 jobs, about 90% of them inside the province. But what kind of jobs are they?

Peter Weekes should know: he’s been at Bruce Power since 1977, and has worked on many of the key projects in running the plant. And the variety is something he likes. “Within the company, there’s a breadth of experience to be gained,” he says. “I’ve alternated my time between engineering, operations, and large projects.”Editorial - jobs

Some of those projects are the restarting of the Unit 1 and 2 reactors in 2012, and managing the replacement of steam generators for the upcoming refurbishment. He retired during the restart of Units 1 and 2, but loved the work so much that he came back the next day as a contractor. “I like working with the people, particularly in planning for the major component replacement for the refurbishment,” he says. “The people here want the refurbishment to go forward – we feel we’re contributing to the future, and we are. We’re extending the reactor’s life and making it better.”

One of the people he worked with throughout his career is his wife, Linda, who was involved in the restarting of Units 1 and 2, and in changing the reactors’ fuel channels. Peter says that she was the only woman in the engineering program at Queen’s in the late ’60s and early ’70s. “It’s come a long way since then,” he says. “It’s a very diverse workforce – gender-wise, ethnically, religion, sexual orientation, and so on.”

But that workforce still needs new talent, he says. “We need to get people into the front end of the chain, so that they’ll be experienced by the time they can lead the projects later on. I see a lot of people from the next generation working here, and it’s rewarding.”

One of that next generation is Matthew Saldanha, who joined Bruce Power in 2013. As a senior technical engineer officer, Matthew is part of a team that manages any design changes to the plant. He works with his mentors to ensure that the plants’ design integrity is kept intact. By doing this, the team is able to protect the stations’ assets and the public.

As a new recruit in the nuclear industry, Matthew says, “It was a little overwhelming, but I had my mentors, and worked with a good group around me. The learning curve was steep, but I wasn’t doing anything by myself.”

Matthew describes relations between the plant and nearby communities as very good. “Most people living in the town work at the plant, and in some way or another the plant touches everyone’s lives. It only brings positive things to this area,” he says. Peter agrees, noting that Bruce Power contributes to the community through social events such as beach parties and golf tournaments, and by supporting charities. And both are very comfortable living so close to the plant. “I would live right up against the fence if that’s where I had to be,” says Peter.

Matthew expects his stay near Bruce to be long too. “I see myself staying here, though probably not at the same job: there’s lots of room to move up, and the company is very receptive to that. I’d recommend it to anybody.” Peter says that the refurbishment has opened up new career opportunities. “I might not have recommended it ten years ago, because the industry had levelled off: plans for the next station after Darlington had been shelved. Now that we’re on the cusp of the refurbishments, I would certainly encourage people to get into the industry. This work will last another generation.”

And even after the refurbishments are done, the plants will keep running for decades, needing skilled people. According to Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, a single nuclear reactor employs about 640 people full-time, with great pay – and Ontario has 18 of these reactors.

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Risk and Large Infrastructure Projects

The Ontario government has decided that refurbishing 10 of the province’s 18 nuclear reactors is the best plan to ensure affordable and reliable electricity for decades to come. That’s largely because carbon-free nuclear electricity will still be less expensive than solar, wind, or gas – even with the cost of refurbishment factored in.

But opponents of the project ask: How much will that refurbishment really cost? Their concerns are founded on cost overruns in past refurbishment projects – and the fact that large infrastructure projects, from building bridges to hydro dams, have a tendency to run over budget.

However, a closer look at the causes of delays and budget overruns in such projects shows that the Ontario nuclear refurbishment is well positioned to finish on time and on budget.

The challenge of one-of-a-kind jobsEditorial - Infrastructure

The challenge with many large infrastructure projects is their uniqueness, which can lend itself to complexity. While some projects take advantage of improvements in materials or technology, these same factors also require new designs, more training, and more coordination among the people involved. This can add cost and time.

But this is also an opportunity. By learning from experience and applying ingenuity, some infrastructure operations eventually become almost routine. For example, in 2014, the City of Ottawa replaced its 2,100-tonne Lees Avenue overpass in a single night. A time-lapse video of the operation went viral.

What does this mean for refurbishment?

Refurbishing Ontario’s nuclear power plants won’t be as fast as replacing an overpass, but the engineering teams will be working with equipment that is well known, operating on principles that are thoroughly understood. This is not experimental, but an upgrade. And the teams taking on the job now have built up a lot of experience on accumulated industry know-how.

To begin with, Bruce Power has already refurbished two reactors. That project showed how the team learned: On the second reactor they refurbished, the team did several tasks much more quickly, replacing the second steam generator 57% faster than the first, and removing the second set of calandria tubes 77% faster than the first. Bruce Power then delivered another life-extension project on one of the reactors on time and budget, in 2011.

In the first refurbishment, the reactors had been offline for 17 years. It was like starting up a classic car that has been sitting in a garage – a really great car, but one that hadn’t been used. The engineers had to find out exactly what state the reactors were in first before going ahead with the overhaul. In contrast, the upcoming Bruce refurbishment is on reactors that are running now, and running well, so much of the planning is already done.

Every activity Bruce Power will have to do on the site is something it has done before. It’s familiar work. The refurbishment activities are focused on two key elements – replacing steam generators and re-tubing the reactor. Every activity needed to complete these has been tested and its scope defined.

Planning is also long underway at Darlington. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is on track to have all the required regulatory approvals, project contracts awarded, tools tested, staff trained and a detailed schedule and fully committed budget well before the project execution begins in 2016. According to OPG, “After six years of planning, extensive inspections and benchmarking, 40 years of operational and project management experience, and a ground-breaking nuclear training and testing facility … we’re ready for refurbishment.” In that testing facility, there is a full-scale mock-up of a Darlington reactor vault. It’s accurate right down to the exact bend in every pipe, with thousands of components. Every door, light, hallway, and overhead light is replicated. The mock-up will give OPG and contractors a chance to do each of the jobs they expect to do, and make sure they can do them right, before working on the actual reactor.

All systems go

The learning won’t stop once the refurbishment begins. Each system-focused team plans to take lessons from one refurbishment and apply them to the next. That’s one of the reasons why the 10 refurbishments will be spaced over 15 years.

The refurbishments also create opportunities to improve the plants’ systems and materials “while the car hood is up.” At Darlington, in addition to the removal and replacement of reactor components, the refurbishment also involves a tremendous amount of work to maintain, upgrade, and refurbish other important plant systems, such as the turbine and generator sets, fuel handling equipment, and other nuclear, conventional, and safety systems. And because the industry has learned a lot about how materials react to radiation since the Bruce Power station went online, the teams will be replacing some of the parts, such as the fuel channels and steam generators, with materials that are stronger, safer, and longer-lasting.

Finally, the Ontario government has ensured that the contracts will allow it to limit or even stop the refurbishments if they go over budget. That’s a serious incentive for the operators and contractors involved to stay on track.

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Nuclear Refurbishment: The Best Deal for Ontario

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By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

One of the biggest criticisms about nuclear power is that renovations are expensive.

But even with a big price tag up front, the refurbishment of nuclear reactors is still cheaper than the alternatives for reliable baseload power (the minimum amount of electric power delivered or required over a given period of time at a steady rate).

In Ontario, refurbishments are planned for both Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation. Bruce Power is estimating it may spend up to $15 billion to refurbish six reactors at its Kincardine station beginning in 2016. And OPG’s Darlington refurbishment is estimated at $10 billion.

Combined, the two plants represent about 10,000 MWs of generation capacity. They produce about half of Ontario’s electricity. They have provided clean, cheap and reliable electricity to Ontarians for almost 25 years. As they come to the end of the first phase of their initial life cycle, the Ontario government concluded that refurbishment is a lot less expensive and cleaner than replacing that power.

“We needed to determine how that power is going to be replaced,” Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said in a recent television interview with Global News.

“We made a determination that refurbishment is the least-cost type of generation. It’s 50 per cent less than the cost of new nuclear and less the cost of replacing those megawatts with gas. So we’re moving ahead because of the cost factor.

“The best cost deal in replacing the existing nuclear is to refurbish what we have.”

Chiarelli went on to explain that he is not expecting either refurbishment to go over budget.

“We built off ramps,” he said. “If OPG cannot deliver on budget and on time then there’s a real likelihood that cabinet will not proceed with the additional refurbishment.

“Building refurbishment is the best cost deal for the province by a large, large margin. The estimates we have now are reliable estimates.”

As for the other options, wind power is intermittent and cannot be relied upon as a base load power source. If you back up wind with natural gas, the price goes up and there is no price certainty over long periods of time for gas, which is currently cheap, but is prone to price changes.

While the price tag for refurbishment can be large, rates are affordable because it can be amortized over a 30 year period.

That was the case in New Brunswick with the refurbishment of the Point Lepreau Generating Station.

Even though refurbishment there went over budget, New Brunswickers will not see their power rates increase as the cost overruns will be paid back over 27 years.

“The costs related to Lepreau have been fully accounted for in our projections, and we intend to recover these costs through equal payments – similar to a home mortgage – made monthly during the 27-year life of the plant,” according to Gaetan Thomas, president of NB Power.

Former New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, whose government approved the refurbishment project in 2005, told Global News recently that when compared with the alternatives, refurbishment was “actually better than any alternatives.”

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Nuclear Provides 62% of Ontario’s Electricity

Nuclear power generated 62 per cent of Ontario’s electricity for the year of 2014, recently released data shows.

The Independent Electrical System Operator (IESO) bought 94.9 terawatt hours of electricity from nuclear generators in 2014. That’s 62 percent of electricity delivered through Ontario’s grid, up from 59 per cent in 2013.

Energy output by fuel type

Better yet – the nuclear power industry delivered all this electricity at roughly six cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s well below the average price paid by Ontario consumers of 8.5 cents.

In just six years, nuclear has increased to 63 per cent from 53 per cent in 2008, according to the IESO.

This confirms the wisdom of Ontario’s strategic investment in nuclear energy and shows its enduring benefits.

Nuclear power continues to provide Ontario with safe, reliable, and carbon-free electricity at a price well below the rates set in Ontario’s regulated-price plan. The province’s nuclear electricity providers – Ontario Power Generation Inc. and Bruce Power – received approximately six cents per kilowatt hour in 2014.

In addition to affordable electricity, the nuclear industry provided significant economic benefits to Ontario through thousands of durable, high-paying jobs. According to Canada’s Manufacturers and Exporters, the nuclear industry employs about 60,000 people directly and in its supply chains.

Rejuvenating ten of Ontario’s 18 nuclear reactors would add thousands more jobs between 2016 and 2031.

CNA2013

CNA2013 Video: Nuclear Refurbishment Projects

The next in our CNA2013 Conference video series features a panel discussion on nuclear refurbishment projects.

Nuclear refurbishments are often referred to as the most complex engineering challenges in the history of infrastructure. With some Canadian projects recently completed, and others in initial planning phases, this session featured Canadian nuclear leaders sharing how lessons learned will inform future initiatives.

Mark Sutcliffe moderated the panel of:

You can watch more CNA2013 conference videos on the playlist we created. Other videos including videos from previous conference years can be found on our YouTube channel.