Vincent Champain – SEVP, Chief Digital Officer and member of the Executive Committee – Framatome

Undertaking a Digital Transformation in the Nuclear Energy Industry

The simple acts of flipping a switch for light and turning on air conditioning to stay cool in the summer are often taken for granted. All of us expect reliable, around-the-clock electricity to power our homes and the world around us.

Behind the scenes, utilities work hard to balance power generation during periods of high and low demand. Their plants – powered by a range of technologies, including renewable, gas, and nuclear – generate electricity to meet demand, providing reliable and affordable power to their customers. However, utilities don’t accomplish this important work alone. Those that operate nuclear power plants rely on the expertise of suppliers like Framatome to help build and maintain their facilities.

Framatome has more than 14,000 employees worldwide who help utilities supply clean, safe, economical, and low-carbon energy. We design, service, and install components, fuel, and instrumentation and control (I&C) systems for nuclear power plants. We are recognized for our innovative solutions and the advanced technologies we supply to the global nuclear fleet, and for our team’s expertise and proven track record of reliability and performance. Framatome is headquartered in Paris, with other offices located in France. We have main offices in the U.S., Germany, and China, and supporting locations in 16 additional countries. Our team is uniquely positioned near our customers and has supported more than 340 nuclear reactors worldwide over the last 60 years.

Our mission is to be the leading designer and supplier of nuclear steam supply systems, equipment, services and fuel, continuously striving to reach the highest levels of performance and safety.

Because our company and industry continue to evolve, it is more important than ever that we leverage our unique expertise and strong industrial capital to be the best at what we do.

As policymakers, business leaders, and other stakeholders seek opportunities to protect the climate and the planet, our work becomes even more critical. Governments, localities, and utilities around the world have announced zero-carbon emission goals with target dates in the next several decades. As more people recognize the low-carbon benefits of nuclear energy, the narrative surrounding the technology is changing. Framatome has an important role to play in telling that story while ensuring the availability of nuclear-generated electricity now and in the future.

Digital transformation drives continuous improvement

Digital transformation is evident in a wide range of technologies – from the telephone to nuclear power plants. We all know that not long ago phones were operated through an analog, landline system, and now we connect digitally through wireless infrastructure with improved performance and capabilities. In nuclear power plants, I&C systems, which serve as the plant’s central nervous system that allows operators to monitor and control the reactor, also benefit from the transition to digital technology.

Since the first commercial nuclear power plant generated electricity more than 60 years ago, the nuclear energy industry has grown and evolved with an unwavering focus on continuous improvement and learning from global operating experience. Combined with public scrutiny, these areas of focus are constant drivers of technical and digital advancements.

As utilities make and implement plans to extend the life of their plants to 80 years, there is an opportunity to digitize the I&C systems and further enhance the already safe and secure operations of these valuable facilities. The nuclear energy industry adheres to strict licensing requirements and regulations, and regulators have processes in place that facilitate the upgrade and modernization of these systems.

While some utilities opt to maintain the original configurations of their I&C systems, others may decide to upgrade to digital, allowing plants to improve productivity and efficiency, and reduce the amount of unscheduled downtime and surveillance. Digital systems also optimize fuel performance, provide flexibility to manage energy production during times of peak and low demand, and enhance control and monitoring systems for remote operations. Further, operators can use virtual reality tools to train and prepare employees for tasks that will be done during planned maintenance outages.

One of the most important safety functions in a nuclear power plant is the emergency power supply. In the rare event of an external power supply failure, the continued safe operation of the plant must be secured. Through Framatome’s expertise in digital technologies, we are able to ensure the safe condition of the reactor at all times by comprehensively monitoring all relevant data like temperature, pressure, and radiation levels throughout the plant. Systems can adjust and respond to changing conditions in real-time. These systems are “smart” in the sense that they’re capable of recognizing when a sensor has failed or is malfunctioning. This means that a sensor won’t cause the reactor to shut down when it can otherwise continue operating safely. It also means that the systems will automatically bring the reactor into a safe shutdown mode if needed.

Nuclear plant operators are realizing the benefits of investing in and upgrading to digital systems. Digital I&C systems offer long-term benefits for reliability and capacity management, enhancing the plant’s capabilities with improved accuracy and response times, and enabling operators to optimize plant performance.

Digital transformation yields continuous improvements in many industries, including nuclear energy. Framatome provides critical services to help utilities around the globe modernize their plants. The next time you flip a switch or use any of life’s modern conveniences that rely on electricity, you can be confident that industry experts with advanced services and technologies are working to keep the lights on.

BY – Vincent Champain

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