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Quality systems in Nuclear

As we transition to cleaner energies, nuclear power is set to play an important role in helping reduce or even eliminate emissions. 

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As we transition to cleaner energies, nuclear power is set to play an important role in helping reduce or even eliminate emissions.

Rick Tofani, executive director of the CEPA Foundation explained, “safety, but most importantly quality systems in the nuclear industry, are second to none as you can imagine. The pipeline industry wants to take a page from the nuclear quality book and look at employing similar tactics – to ensure pipeline quality systems are at the same high level of assurance, and quality culture becomes as important as safety culture in the nuclear industry”.

Brent Smith, manager of operational readiness, advanced reactor development at NB Power spoke to us at the 2022 CEPA Foundation Quality Summit and provided an interesting background to the quality systems that make nuclear a safe and reliable source of energy.

NB Power is a fully integrated utility owned by the Province of New Brunswick, generating power from a diverse mix of resources, including hydro, wind, thermal and nuclear. Their Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station, which is Atlantic Canadas only operating nuclear facility, supplies approximately 40 per cent of New Brunswick’s electricity grid.

Benefits of nuclear energy

“Nuclear energy is emissions-free, affordable and reliable,” said Smith, “and it has created good quality, high paying jobs in our community.”

It also creates less waste than traditional energies. Waste in the nuclear sector is highly controlled. It is segregated, compacted, measured and stored in cells. “After 40 years of operation we have a canister site that takes up less than the space of a football field,” said Smith. “According to the Canadian Nuclear Association, if all the power a person ever used came from nuclear, their lifetime waste would fit in a soda can.”

Background to quality in nuclear

Nuclear in Canada is regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). Their regulatory framework and management system (CSA N286) principles serve as guidance for establishing an effective management system and compliance is required of operators throughout the entire lifecycle of a nuclear facility.

But the industry commitment to quality and safety goes beyond regulations. “The industry has a mindset of safety, and safety culture has become a way of doing business,” said Smith. “There are now several levels of defence in our safety systems and we have quality systems designed to support that.”

The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) are both industry-led associations founded specifically to foster safety and performance within the nuclear industry. They are the result of industry members agreeing to collaborate and share experiences in order to establish benchmarks for quality and safety culture.

Barriers

There are two primary barriers for nuclear energy – social acceptance and capital costs.

When it comes to social acceptance, the industry is battling negative perceptions caused by events such as Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. These incidents have created concerns about safety and environmental impacts.

“These events were caused when someone decided not to act,” said Smith “and that is why the industry has worked so hard to create built-in, ‘defense-in-depth’ safety systems.”

Capital costs are another barrier, but Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are a small, potentially portable technology that makes nuclear power more accessible. “SMRs have been used in submarines and aircraft carriers for over 50 years,” said Smith. “In the future, we will be using them as mainstream nuclear facilities and even to bring power to remote communities that currently rely on diesel or other fuels that have to be trucked or flown in.

Like other utilities, NB Power will be phasing out coal in the next ten years, so nuclear will likely play an increasing role in providing a reliable source of electricity, and in our journey toward net zero.

In an upcoming post, we will be exploring the future of SMRs and why they will play such an important role in our clean energy future.

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