Nuclear Energy Engineering in a transitioning society
Mr. Hendrik Reydams
The nuclear energy eco system is as an intricate coexistence between Operators, Regulators, Vendors, Investors, Insurers, etc. Each of these roles has a very specific and justified raison d’etre. The main focus of each of these entities lies first and foremost on activities directly relating to their main objective, i.e. an Operators produce energy and earn revenue, Regulators draft legislation and perform oversight, Vendors provide goods and services, and so forth. However, when Operators, Investors or Insurers have to make large investments or design/safety modifications, navigating the nuclear eco system and ensuring licensing, schedule and budget risks are kept below a defined baseline leads them away from their core activities and would ask of them to perform activities and take responsibilities they are not accustomed to. For this reason, Operators and Investors often choose to consult Engineering service providers to perform feasibility studies, independent design verifications, licensing support, manufacturing oversight, etc.
For the past 6 years I have been working for such an Engineering service provider, Tractebel Engineering, within the Engie group. My job is that of a Quality Surveillance Engineer/Contract Owner for Mechanical Equipment/Installations within our Nuclear group. Our main activity until very recently was support of the Belgian Nuclear Energy Operator Electrabel who operates seven pressurized water reactors, good for approximately 40% of the total generated electricity on the Belgian grid. Our support consisted of lifetime extension of all plants by 10 years beyond initial licensing lifetime, foreseen and unforeseen repair and replacement of major/critical infrastructure, implementation of Post-Fukushima lessons learned, etc. However, our plants are reaching the end of their licensed life time and there is no current political framework in place to potentially prolong the lifetime of our reactors, and as such we are currently headed for a definitive exit from nuclear energy in 2025. As a result, our activities are shifting from operational support towards the preparation of the decommissioning and dismantling of the Belgian nuclear power plants. We are currently foreseeing the necessary site modifications and procuring the necessary components to be able to start with the Emptying of Pools, the first step in being able to decommission our nuclear power plants.
In both operational support and D&D preparation, my role has been to apply additional supply chain oversight and management, engineering assessment, and construction follow-up in order to ensure licensing, schedule and budget risks are kept under the project baseline and master schedule floats. This has included emergent repair on reactor coolant systems, primary coolant circuit modifications, steam generator replacement, emergency diesel procurement and currently entails the procurement of spent nuclear fuel transport and storage casks.
As an Engineering company, we are investing fully in the diversification of our activities, away from the “traditional” nuclear energy models, i.e. every larger and more powerful PWRs, and towards medical, space and research applications. Our only R&D within the domain of nuclear energy is currently oriented towards the emerging SMR technology for very niche applications and aimed at compatibility with renewables.
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