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Advanced Nuclear Power Plant Construction Techniques Can Help Provide Innovative Solutions for Flexibility and Cost-Effectiveness

Posted to EPRI in the Generation Professionals Group
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Hasan Charkas's picture
Principal Project Manager – EPRI Advanced Nuclear Technology Program, EPRI

Hasan Charkas is a principal project manager at EPRI. He leads the engineering and construction innovation research area for the Advanced Nuclear Technology group. His research interests includes...

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  • Oct 5, 2022
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Nuclear power is an essential part of the current and future energy generation portfolio as it delivers energy that is both reliable and carbon-free. Consequently, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act includes several provisions that are supportive of nuclear energy, including the construction of new plants. However, building a new plant is a complicated process, and recent projects have often resulted in schedule delays and cost overruns. The nuclear industry is pursuing several Advanced Reactor (AR) approaches to reduce the cost of these plants, including use of designs that are significantly smaller than traditional plants, and which use alternative coolants to water. 

The increasing interest in ARs poses questions on how to select and leverage the most appropriate construction techniques, as they play a key role in the efficient and cost-effective deployment of nuclear reactors. ARs are significantly different from the large light water reactors currently in operation in terms of generation capacity, size, components, and safety features. These attributes set the stage for reevaluating and optimizing the construction techniques that could be used in building nuclear plants.

For example, the “modular” design of small commercial reactors creates an opportunity for prefabrication, pre-assembly, and modularization of the structures, systems, and components, which can allow faster and more cost-effective results in a factory environment rather than field construction.

Additional new construction techniques include:

  • Increased applications of three-dimensional modeling, as well as digital twins for construction quality. Creating a digital reference for the project progress is essential to ensure solid project execution and plans.

  • Advanced welding techniques, especially using robotics. Modular construction might introduce the need for faster welding techniques and more reliance on robots to achieve high quality welding to meet stricter construction schedules.

  • Exploring the use of new structural members like precast concrete. Advanced nonlight water reactors’ operating conditions could allow a wider use of precast concrete members in construction.

  • Seismic isolation of structures, systems and component provides an opportunity to reduce seismic demands on critical SSCs, consequently, allowing more flexibility in construction.

In May 2022, EPRI, Oak Ridge National Lab, and the National Reactor Innovation Center hosted a workshop focused on techniques and approaches for deploying new reactors. At that workshop, I shared insights from EPRI’s recently issued research on nuclear construction, namely that advanced construction techniques could improve AR deployment if they could reduce the construction schedule without undue risk or complexity.

The workshop provided an opportunity for participants (e.g., future AR owners, Original Equipment Manufacturers , architectural designers, and construction contractors) to reflect on and discuss the role of advanced construction techniques and what the next steps are to set the stage for the successful deployment of ARs.

Advanced construction techniques have been demonstrated in the commercial construction, structural engineering, and welding industries to realize considerable cost and schedule savings, and offer similar potential for future plant construction, including small modular reactors and ARs. For the past several years, EPRI’s Advanced Nuclear Technology (ANT) program has been actively involved in these efforts and will continue to work with nuclear industry stakeholders to develop these advanced construction methods to meet demand for clean and reliable energy.

A video overview of new plant construction techniques can be viewed here.

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