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How VR is Helping Mobile Workforces in Nuclear Power Plants

image credit: ID 12131259 © Tolga Bayraktar | Dreamstime.com

As things go, training is turning out to be one of the most important use cases for virtual reality in the utility industry. The technology enables utilities to train their employees about conditions on the field at a cheap cost. For example, I posted a link earlier that discussed how Australian electricity distribution companies are using virtual reality for live zone demonstrations. Recently I read about another interesting VR use case in the nuclear energy industry. 

Finnish utility Fortum is using VR to train employees at its Lovissa nuclear plant. The training is immersive, meaning the idea is to simulate real working conditions, and its scope is broad. The training scenarios range from basic, day-to-day situations to more complex ones that might involve a breakdown of one of the parts or refurbishment of existing plants. 

Generally physical simulators are used to conduct this kind of training but Fortum says VR helped reduce costs. According to Joakim Bergroth, product lead at Fortum eSites, the cost to conduct a training using VR was one-tenth of the millions of euros required to build a physical simulator. 

Of course, cost is just one of the many considerations that should be taken into account while evaluating the benefits of VR for nuclear power plants. In an online interview, Bergroth also pointed to two other important factors. The first one is the resolution of the VR headset to enable a realistic simulation of various switches on a control panel. Bergroth also said it was impossible to simulate natural disasters, such as fires and tsunamis, in physical simulators but it is possible to do so in a VR environment without much physical damage.  

The second, and more important one, is validation of control room procedures in a safety-critical nuclear power plant. In a physical simulator, this process can take months at a time and occurs late in the process, after the simulator is built out. Errors during the design process can compound the time factor, delaying it by as much as a year. VR headsets, on the other hand, enable validation earlier in the process and errors can be rectified at considerably less expense as compared to physical simulators. ​​​​​​

Electricite de France (EDF) is also using VR for maintenance work in its power plants. The utility’s R&D division developed VVProPrepa, a VR simulation that enables exploration of its plants “down to the last detail.” Use of VVProPrepa has shut down the length of downtime periods and enables nuclear specialists to explore operating reactor buildings and develop new methods to streamline and make processes more efficient. General Electric (GE) is also working with nuclear engineers to simulate the inside of a nuclear power plant.

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