“A training is conducted in a full-scope simulator at the construction site of the United Arab Emirates’s Barakah nuclear power plant in February 2016.” (Photo: Louise Potterton/IAEA)Students and professionals in the nuclear field are making use of learning opportunities during lockdown made necessary by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Requests to use the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) basic principle nuclear reactor simulators have risen sharply in recent weeks, IAEA said on 1 May. New users will have the opportunity to learn more about operating them in an IAEA webinar on 12 May.

“This suite of nuclear power plant simulators is part of the IAEA education and training programmes on technology development of advanced reactors. [It] can be accessed upon request by interested parties from around the world,” said Stefano Monti, head of the IAEA’s Nuclear Power Technology Development Section.

Simulators include several features to help users understand fundamental concepts behind the behaviour of nuclear plants and their reactors. They also provide an overview of how various plant systems and components work to power turbines and produce low-carbon electricity.

In the integral pressurised water reactor (IPWR) simulator, for instance, users can navigate through several screens, each containing information allowing them to adjust certain variables. One provides a summary of reactor parameters such as primary pressure, flow and temperature. Another view lays out the status of the reactor core.

The “Systems” screen provides a visual overview of how the plant’s main systems, including the reactor and turbines, work together. On the “Controls” screen, users can adjust values which affect reactor performance and power output.

This simulator provides insight into how the IPWR works, and also allows users to see how the changes they make to plant variables alter the plant’s operation. Operators can also perform manoeuvres similar to those that would take place in the course of real plant operations e.g. in load following mode.

“Currently, most nuclear plants operate in ‘baseload’ mode, continually generating electricity at their maximum capacity. However, there is a trend of countries moving toward hybrid energy systems which incorporate nuclear together with a diverse mix of renewable energy sources. A greater need for flexible operations is emerging, and many advanced power plants offer standard features for load following,” said Gerardo Martinez-Guridi, an IAEA nuclear engineer who specialises in water-cooled reactor technology.

Prospective nuclear engineers need to understand the dynamics of the consequences of reducing a reactor’s power output, for example, and simulators can help students visualise these processes, he noted.

“Many reactor variables change when the power output is adjusted, and it is useful to see how this occurs in real-time,” said Chirayu Batra, an IAEA nuclear engineer, who will lead the webinar on 12 May.

“Users will know that the operation is complete once the various parameters have stabilised at their new values.”

Observing and comparing the parameter changes helps users know what to expect during a real power manoeuvre, he added.

Photo: Training is conducted in a full-scope simulator at the construction site of the United Arab Emirates’s Barakah nuclear power plant in February 2016. (Photo: Louise Potterton/IAEA)