A Better Way to Address Aging and Obsolescence

Commercial Grade Dedication & Procurement Solutions

Bob Cole By Bob Cole, Manager, Integrated Product Solutions at AREVA

In the domestic energy industry, nuclear energy's value to our country is not only based on building new nuclear power stations, but also includes the ongoing investments in the continued safe and economic operations of existing nuclear energy facilities. This daily nuclear renewal is ensuring that nuclear energy remains a key component in the U.S. energy economy. Regular maintenance, uprates and procurement solutions are a critical component of today's nuclear renaissance, and are vital to sustain safe and reliable operation of the existing nuclear fleet.

However, this daily nuclear renewal is not without challenges. Many plants are facing increasing demands related to aging and obsolescent components. Obsolescence, in the context of the nuclear industry, refers to components that are no longer manufactured or qualified to the current regulated standards or are no longer available from their original fabricators.

When safety-grade components are not readily available, commercial grade dedication, offered along with procurement engineering, is a comprehensive solution to overcoming aging and obsolescence challenges by ensuring the safe, continued operation of the existing U.S. nuclear fleet.

Scientists running experiments in the Solutions Complex Chemistry Lab.
Scientists running experiments in the Solutions Complex Chemistry Lab.

The issue of aging and obsolescence of nuclear components is a high priority for many nuclear facilities in the United States. With low natural gas prices and the evolving economy, the market for new nuclear plant construction has been limited. But over the past three decades the 104 licensed nuclear plants, providing approximately 20 percent of the current U.S. energy mix, have not sat idle. The country relies heavily on the safe, low-carbon electricity produced by the existing nuclear fleet. Appropriately manufactured and regulated nuclear components are essential to keep these plants running and meeting ever increasing safety requirements. Often, the existing US plants have parts that need to be repaired and sometimes replaced before the end-of-plant life. This need presents a unique challenge for the nuclear industry, as many manufacturing firms who provided original parts to the plants in the 1970s and 80s are no longer in business or are no longer appropriately certified to provide nuclear-grade parts. Plant operators and procurement teams are focused on finding a safe and reliable source for the aging and obsolescent parts in their plants.

As the most highly regulated industry in the world, the US nuclear industry follows stringent criteria for manufacturing, construction and maintenance of its nuclear facilities. Years ago, when the first nuclear plants were being built in the U.S., many companies had 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix B, quality assurance (QA) programs, per Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) standards. These QA programs ensured that components used in nuclear plants were manufactured to meet very specific regulatory safety standards. In the late 1970s, with the Three-Mile Island accident and changing economics, many plant projects were cancelled. Some manufacturing companies' QA programs, like Appendix B, were cancelled as the construction of nuclear facilities slowed and are no longer offered today.

So, in the context of the industry's nuclear renewal, what will facility operators do when they have aging parts that need to be repaired or replaced? And how does the industry ensure that these parts are meeting 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix B quality assurance safety standards?

Aging equipment, and the need to replace it, is a challenge affecting utility operations and maintenance. In addition to paying for new components and equipment, poor procurement planning can affect outage and maintenance schedules, resulting in additional cost overruns for the plant. Utilities have to be diligent in their procurement planning to ensure that aging and obsolete parts will be replaced at the right time, ensuring the safety and reliability of their plants.

Attacking the Obsolescence Issue

So what is the best way to address obsolescence issues to drive the nuclear renewal? There are several options open to utilities.

One option is to work with vendors who have equipment already certified through the Appendix B program still in stock and available for purchase. This option can include challenges related to equipment storage, required in-storage maintenance, records management and Quality Inspection problem resolution.

Another option is to perform an "Items Equivalency Evaluation." In this situation, the plants look for a similar piece of equipment and complete an analysis to see if it will work correctly in the current plant environment. If there is no equivalent part available, the plants go into replacement part mode, requiring reverse engineering of the component or plant modification to change out the component with one that is not equivalent. Both of these options can require substantial engineering hours and, therefore, high costs.

One of the most viable solutions, however, is for the plant to purchase commercial components and have them dedicated to meet NRC manufacturing safety standards. This solution is called commercial grade dedication.

The Shaker Table at the Areva Solutions Complex does exactly what it sounds like it does in order to run earthquake simulations.
The Shaker Table at the Areva Solutions Complex does exactly what it sounds like it does in order to run earthquake simulations.

Commercial grade dedication is making nuclear plants in the United States even safer. Essentially, this is the process of taking a commercial grade part and replacing it with a safety grade part. The process starts with a technical evaluation. During the evaluation, the safety function, critical characteristics, and acceptance criteria and methods are defined for the component. These are the key inputs needed to judge whether a component meets safety grade regulation requirements. Next, a dedication plan is defined, including a process for verifying all critical characteristics. The commercial grade item is then procured and inspected upon receipt. After passing through a verification of the critical characteristics, a final inspection is completed. Finally, a complete data package showing that the component meets safety grade qualifications and the product are sent to the customer. This shows the component has been successfully commercially dedicated and can be used safely in the plant.

Commercial grade dedication allows utilities and plants to have replacement options for their safety-related equipment. The process for dedicating components typically takes much less time than reverse engineering or completing plant modifications. There is also a significant cost savings, meaning commercial grade dedication is often a much more competitive option for utilities. From an operations perspective, there are no differences between equipment that was manufactured under Appendix B and commercially dedicated parts. Commercial grade dedication is a viable option in meeting plants aging and obsolescence challenges ensuring the safe operation of the existing U.S. nuclear fleet.

Solutions Centralized

Although it seems complex, there are options available today for nuclear utilities to address their aging and obsolescence issues. To meet ever increasing safety requirements, it is essential for the industry to ensure that they benefit from the latest technology and innovative solutions.

For example, the AREVA Solutions Complex in Lynchburg, Va. is a centralized solution to address aging and obsolescence challenges. As a full-service campus of eight facilities, the AREVA Solutions Complex helps U.S. electric utilities and equipment manufacturers meet ever-increasing safety requirements for nuclear electricity production, with the unique ability to package engineering and services to extend plant life and improve plant operations. This Complex houses commercial grade dedication and component testing and qualification all under one roof. AREVA is the only NSSS-designed company that is doing equipment CGD, testing and qualification. AREVA plays an ongoing role in the daily nuclear energy renewal, delivering to utility's project management expertise and technology innovations to meet obsolescence issues.

A technician at work in the Materials Analysis lab.
A technician at work in the Materials Analysis lab.

AREVA also offers "Integrated Procurement Solutions," (IPS) which consists of four modules that can be provided separately or integrated to meet nuclear utility supply chain demands. The IPS offering supports the aging nuclear fleet by providing customers with safety-related equipment that is no longer available on the market. AREVA's IPS addresses a number of issues, including:

  • Commercial Grade Dedication
  • Component Testing and Qualification (through U.S. Technical Center at the AREVA Solutions Complex)
  • Procurement Engineering
  • Inventory Optimization
  • Risk Informed Procurement

The IPS product line and AREVA's focus on commercial grade dedication saves nuclear utility customers money while helping them meet and exceed the rigorous safety standards of the NRC.

The Path Forward

In today's nuclear renewal, proactively addressing obsolescence issues though thoughtful planning and procurement engineering is a key challenge for U.S. nuclear plants. Procurement is a strategic player in ensuring the robust infrastructure of the nuclear industry and helps nuclear plants to meet ever increasing safety requirements. Part replacement should be completed at every planned plant outage and through every plant modification package. By dismissing strategic, long-term planning and emphasizing a short-term view, nuclear operators could affect outage and maintenance schedules and incur unnecessary costs for their plants. Nuclear utilities that plan ahead to address obsolescence issues at their plants avoid costly delays and avoid expediting mode for nuclear components.

The most proactive U.S. utilities in addressing aging and obsolescent nuclear equipment issues realize that their projected needs could exceed their projected infrastructure to meet those needs. Not having the correct parts can cause outage schedule delays, increase costs or lead to cost overruns. Instead of expediting the dedication of nuclear components, these utilities work proactively with procurement engineers to lead the way in improving safety, reliability and plant availability, and in addressing obsolescence in their nuclear plants.

The bottom line is that it is very simple for utilities to overcome these issues. Our existing fleet ramped up output while maintaining safe and secure operations by continually upgrading technology and capabilities – and those activities continue today. Most of today's nuclear plants will operate for 60 years, providing long-term, safe, reliable, clean base load electricity. With the proper planning and with partners like AREVA and PKMJ, utilities can be sure that obsolescence and aging challenges are being addressed in the safest, most competitive manner available, meeting all regulatory and industry requirements. In the process, they will be making obsolescence a non-issue for their operations and ensuring the sustained supply of safe, clean, "round-the-clock" power to achieve America's clean energy vision.

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