Virtual reality in the nuclear industry
The nuclear industry is starting to embrace virtual reality technologies to train operators, optimize site operation, improve safety and reduce costs.
Virtual reality (VR) makes it possible to create realistic 3-D environments that simulate the inside of nuclear power plants, to train and teach operators. In virtual environments, trainees can safely interact with control panels, the different equipment, systems and fuel, and practice the usual actitivites carried out onsite. They can also train to give optimal response in complicated situations such as emergency evacuation, leaks or fire, all of which be impossible to reproduce in real life. The simulated environment is highly realistic and creates an immersive experience that helps to learn the correct response in difficult situations. It is also very cost-effective, since multiple sessions can be done at a relatively low cost, according to experts.
Virtual reality makes it possible to create realistic 3-D environments simulating the inside of nuclear power plants for operator learning and training
Studies that show that training in virtual environments has improved the general response of staff in nuclear power plants.
Training in virtual environments has improved the general response of staff members at nuclear power plants
Applications of nuclear training with virtual reality
- Turbine maintenance
With virtual reality, engineers can safely learn the necessary protocol for assembly and decommissioning of turbines, repairs, etcetera. The virtual environment helps technicians to take the various steps and observe how all the pieces work and come together before performing the task in a real nuclear power plant.
- Control room operation
It is possible to develop a virtual reality system based on a simulator to create an interface that simulates a control room. This way, the operators will receive an immersive experience without compromising the safety of the nuclear power plant. Everything can be recreated, from basic operations to emergency situations, applying stress factors to make the training as realistic as possible.
- Orientation inside a nuclear power plant
Engineers can freely move around the plant and perform activities to develop a better knowledge of the installations without compromising safety. Visitors can also make virtual visits to get to know the control room, go down to the reactor or walk inside the turbine room.
- Nuclear power plant decommissioning
The workers involved in the decommissioning of a nuclear power plant can become familiar with the steps that they need to take in a highly realistic, safe and controlled environment. It also helps to save costs, as there is no need to use the expensive protection gear necessary for physical training. In some countries, robots handled in virtual environments are already being used as they prevent human exposure to radioactive elements.
- Fuel management
Thanks to virtual simulation, workers learn to manage and handle fuel avoiding exposure to radiation and without compromising the reactor's structural integrity.
- Training based on emergency scenarios
Emergency situations (loss of electric supply, a failure in the emergency generators or cooling system, leaks...) can be reproduced in a virtual environment to run tests and provide training. In this environment, the user can test the correct operation of the devices, as well as the tools and procedures that would be used in different emergency situations. It is also helpful to maintain the level of preparation of the personnel that would act in case of emergency.
Emergency simulations can also be used to test response time, communication and the decision-making capacity of teams under critical conditions that cannot be reproduced in real time.
Virtual reality has many applications for staff training in nuclear power plants
The future of virtual reality in the nuclear industry
One of the main advantages of virtual reality is that it facilitates real-time cooperation and creates an immersive, precise and realistic environment. It can be used to simulate and train throughout all the stages of assembly, installation, operations, maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear power plants, with total safety and at a very low cost.
The nuclear industry can use RV training to improve efficiency and maximize operations, which could mean great savings in terms of time and received dose, especially in areas with high radiation levels.
Training with virtual reality can help improve efficiency and maximize operations, with great savings in terms of time and received dose
Virtual reality at nuclear sites today
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) is already using VR to train personnel for refueling outages, operations and management, with the tool Nuclear Virtual Reality Solution (VRS).
This tool helps staff at the plant to prepare for the operation scenarios they will deal with during maintenance and refueling outage, including vessel assembly and disassembly, fuel movement and inspections.
The virtual solution they work with can simulate the layout of various nuclear power plants, including pressurized water reactors (PWR) and boiling water reactors (BWR), as well as fuel movement technologies. This technology also provides an immersive and interactive vision of GEH's small modular reactor, which will be installed at the Canadian Darlington plant soon.