Get with the programme

30 May 2018

Sean Weller suggests that a new approach to equipment qualification could cut new build procurement costs by at least 10%.

Equipment qualification (EQ) is vital to ensure reliable, predictable and safe operation of nuclear power plants. Equipment must perform its designated function and safety role on demand, in mild, harsh and accident environments, throughout a reactor’s life.

But there is a surprising and concerning inconsistency in approaches to EQ within the nuclear supply chain. There are broad assumptions that past qualifications will be valid in all geographies and circumstances, and exaggerated and costly qualification programmes. Neither of these approaches is appropriate, nor in the best interest of assuring safe, timely and cost-effective project completion.

At Wood, our experience is that an independent programmatic approach is the best way to define the true EQ scope, create more consistent, rationalised and cost-effective EQ activities and thereby minimise risks and keep projects on schedule. This could potentially save at least 10% of procurement costs. If a new build project has a programme management office (PMO) to oversee the EQ process, it ensures that any problems around equipment qualification data are quickly spotted and opportunities to rationalise are efficiently realised.

Wood’s EQ Services Alliance (EQSA), whose other members are Tecnatom, TUV Rheinland and Element Materials Technology, uses a three-step methodology to carry out EQ and to ensure that it satisfies the operator and the regulator.

EQSA first independently assesses the “EQ Gap” by analysing existing EQ data from many countries and reactor types, to determine whether the supply chain has fully understood the country context and the regulatory expectations. Next, it asks whether the EQ strategy is either too lightweight to satisfy the regulator or grossly disproportionate, and whether it has unreasonable testing timescales (and therefore excessive testing costs).

Early and consistent engagement with the supply chain is vital to identify common risks and propose mitigation. This early engagement can also educate the supply chain about the regulator’s expectations. This empowers the supply chain to make more sensible buying decisions as well as consider a higher proportion of commercially available off-the-shelf equipment, which will drive EQ costs down.

A programmatic approach will also drive rationalisation of EQ activities, such as avoiding needless repeats of long and costly tests. Rationalisation of testing can be done by grouping equipment into families or into groups with common or similar operating conditions, and by taking credit for clearance activities which have already been performed. To secure regulatory clearance qualification activities, documentation and operational evidence of equipment in service must all be provided.

After rationalisation and once EQ plans are in place, appropriate and lower risk estimates and schedules can be created for pricing, programming and delivery. The net effect should be lower cost and clearer actual costs of EQ, which is reckoned to account for between five percent and 15% of a typical nuclear plant procurement budget.

Based on more than 50 years of working closely with regulators and the supply chain, Wood has found that the following activities help to ‘de-risk’ EQ programmes:

  • Analysing what can be claimed from existing qualification activities, operational data, and desktop design reviews.
  • Testing what is outstanding in a rationalised way to bring synergies, not just as identified for particular suppliers, but across the whole supply chain for similar or same specification tests.
  • Making use of third-party and regulatory witnessing, driving down cost and reducing potential pinch points in qualification activities.
  • Compiling lifetime qualification records, as Wood has done and continues to do for the advanced gas-cooled reactor fleet in the UK.
  • Establishing an EQ Preservation Strategy, such as condition monitoring, inspection regimes, maintenance schedules, provision and management of spares and repairs, including lean procurement of components and necessary plant lifetime (or milestone major renovation programme) purchases where appropriate.

Pinch points are highly likely during the EQ process because the capacity to carry out testing programmes is restricted. This makes the PMO approach even more important as it ensures that prioritisation decisions are taken away from lower supply chain tiers and brought under central control.

A PMO approach is the best way to manage other risks and opportunities, such as:

  • Unfamiliarity with the regulatory regime on the part of cross-border suppliers;
  • a tendency among suppliers to overestimate the amount of EQ work needed to comply with standards;
  • determining whether manufacturer’s qualification claims will satisfy the regulator;
  • maintaining the confidence and commitment of suppliers;
  • spotting ill-advised or fraudulent quality assurance activities and counterfeit, fraudulent and suspect items;
  • making economies from combining analysis, human resources and test facilities; and
  • making the most of any flexibility in qualification standards.  

Sean Weller is Equipment qualification lead consultant at Wood 


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