Supporting a new generation of nuclear operations

Posted on: June 27, 2018 by Caroline Barret

Perhaps the arrival of a new generation into the workforce is felt more keenly in nuclear than in other industries. The operating cycles in nuclear are long and getting longer, with the active life of many plants now being extended even beyond fifty years.

Compare that with the period in which personal digital communications can appear to be completely reinvented. In less than ten years, for example, the digital workplace can be transformed through mobility, unified communication, bio-metric security, ...

This difference in innovation cycles creates some special challenges for the nuclear industry. The good news, I believe, is that there are valid lessons to be learned from other sectors which can help nuclear operators adopt digital working practices which boost productivity and reduce the cost of operations without compromising on safety.

Capturing knowledge for the next generation

Before thinking about how best to equip a new generation of nuclear operations professionals, it’s worth thinking about the importance of capturing the knowledge of your existing experts. People who have spent their professional lives in the nuclear sector have an exceptional depth of knowledge and experience, and as they count down to a well-earned retirement, capturing this intelligence for the next generation becomes a priority.

The nuclear industry has always been scrupulous in its approach to procedural documentation and in keeping that documentation up-to-date as changes to the plant are made. Effectively capturing and managing human knowledge and experience, however, needs a little extra digital help.

We’ve been working, for example, using natural language processing technologies to aid this essential knowledge capture process. These approaches, by definition, need to be able to handle non-structured data and multiple media types and this can be a new experience for those who work in such a well-established and highly-structured industry.

Security and resilience

As we begin to think about what form a new digital workplace could take for the nuclear sector, we must emphasize the absolute priorities of security and resilience. Nuclear operators must be able to continually counter both physical and cyber-threats, and the design of the workplace must factor-in the highest levels of security from the start.

While in financial services, for example, the idea of “bring-your-own-device” has become commonplace, it is not going to happen in nuclear. So even if most employees have personal smartphones or even smart watches, those devices are not going to be integrated in the nuclear digital workplace any time soon.

Although it is changing relatively quickly, the nuclear industry still shows dependence on paper-based processes, and this extends to job-scheduling and worksheets. In part, this is due to the sector’s well-established processes, and that is understandable. But there is also a security issue here: you cannot hack into paper in the way that you can hack into internet-enabled devices!

When I am discussing the form of new digitally-enabled workplaces with utility clients, we always try to put security, and security-related processes up front: they are not an add-on. The interest shown, for example, in the Atos Hoox systems for secure communication, points towards the importance given to security and resilience.

New generations and new tools

Having accepted the need to harness and protect existing knowledge, and having acknowledged the absolute importance of security, it’s time to think about how best to equip and support the new generation of nuclear operations staff.

The new generation of nuclear operators has grown up with digital technology. Unsurprisingly they are not enthusiastic about more traditional tools. The challenge lies in designing a workplace which will suit digital natives without compromising either resilience or security.

Working with our nuclear clients, we are careful to establish the right balance between innovation, resilience and security.

When, for example, a member of a field engineering team needs to be provided with timely and contextual information for a specific task, we need to ask how best this can be delivered within the established operational framework. Wearables and augmented reality both generate interest here, not only in terms of giving the engineer better quality and accuracy of information, but also in terms of reducing opex – these new tools can help eliminate the cost, management time and physical burden of gathering paper documentation for every intervention.

Digital innovation coupled with the new generation’s experience can also be exploited to good effect in training and simulation. For example, we have been using augmented reality techniques used in gaming to help engineers prepare for work in specialist engineering tasks – a kind of Pokémon Go for specialist professionals.

Atos demonstrates its digital value proposition for nuclear at the World Nuclear Exhibition (WNE 2018), the biannual leading event for the global civil nuclear energy community, from 26-28 June 2018 at Paris Villepinte.

Our experts are pleased to welcome you Hall 7 Stand F89.

For more information click here.

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About Caroline Barret
Head of Energy & Utilities Marketing and Portfolio
As sales lead and offering manager for the Atos utilities and energy team, Caroline is primarily focused on ensuring the Atos utilities proposition is in tune with market trends and requirements. Following her master’s degree in systems and markets at the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble, Caroline worked on the national sustainability plan for the Vietnamese government before joining Atos in 2010.

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