At the end of 2017, the order book of Atomstroyexport (ASE),  the engineering division of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, was more than $92bn, ASE president Valery Limarenko told Ria Novosti. It is similar to the 2016 level, despite the completion of work at facilities which have now begun operation “This in itself is an achievement, given the current international political situation,” he said. “Most of the portfolio is the traditional business for us – the construction of large nuclear power plants. The contract last year for two more units in India is a significant contribution to our portfolio. Taking this into account, the division's portfolio currently includes 33 power units, 25 of which are abroad.”

However, there are challenges. The amount of work involved in the contracted portfolio is more than ASE or the industry as a whole has encountered before. “This is a huge challenge for us, and in response, the division has launched a transformation programme aimed at improving the management system, improving the quality of work from design to delivery of facilities.” The programme is being implemented jointly with the industry leadership. “Not everything is easy, as the changes require considerable effort. But we are aware of the need for change to fulfil our commitments,” Limarenko explained.

It is a task which ASE cannot tackle alone, and Rosatom leadership is also involved. “A large portfolio of projects requires a large number of specialists of all kinds –  primarily experts in the field of design because the design work comes first”. There is a shortage of resources. “However, it's not that we do not have enough people, but that the requirements related to the quality of projects have increased substantially, and we need highly skilled people who are able to do work primarily for European customers.”  

This problem is being approached on several levels. “First, we must work with our own personnel to improve their skills – and from unit to unit, they will become more experienced; second, we need to take people from the market; third, we must involve young professionals;…and finally, we have to include local subcontractors who will help to adapt our project documentation to those markets where we are present.”

Concerning procurement and supply of products and services for projects, Limarenko sees fewer problems because of the high level of skills and high labour productivity. “We have been dealing with these things for a long time and coping with them. We are introducing digital technologies and believe this will solve the issue of labour resources in this direction.” The main deficit is in human resources for project management. “No one prepares such people, and there are very few in the market… in practice, we are developing them ourselves.” The growth rate of project teams is decisive in deciding the number of projects.

As for construction and installation, to avoid an acute shortage, ASE decided to build only a nuclear island and to give the rest to local contractors. “Nevertheless, we will have to double the number of our personnel to ensure the timely construction of facilities in the next few years.”

Iran and India

Limarenko also spoke about preparations being made to build Iran’s Bushehr 2, which is in an area of high seismic risk. “We consider the safety of the nuclear facilities being constructed as our priority. To this end, a complex of complicated technical and design solutions has been developed and is now being implemented. One of them is the reinforcement of soils under the main buildings. We use the most advanced technologies and world experience here.” He said soil reinforcement was a definite challenge. It was undertaken first at the site of the Rooppur NPP in Bangladesh, then at Bushehr and is also planned for the Paks II in Hungary and possible for El-Dabaa NPP in Egypt.

“Previously this was rarely used in nuclear power engineering,” he said, “but this method has great prospects because it increases our ability to build facilities where it may otherwise be inconvenient."

"There are technologies that can change the conditions of the site in such a way that it becomes possible to build an NPP with the specified parameters,” Limarenko said, adding that Bushehr would not be possible without strengthening the ground.

“It is gratifying to note that Iranian companies have high competence in this field. This accounted for the success of the Iranian contractor in the international open tender for work to strengthen the soil. We are confident that the Iranian subcontractor will honourably fulfil the obligations undertaken and will strengthen the soil in a qualitative and timely manner." Limarenko added that the subcontractor has received "good results" in the pilot area and has already begun to strengthen the soils under the main buildings of the reactor compartment of unit 2.

He noted that good progress was also being made at the Kudankulam NPP in India where construction of units 3 and 4 (phase two) was now well under way. With regard to phase three (units 5 and 6), the necessary agreements and contract were signed in 2017 and the implementation stage has begun. “At the moment, work is underway to release the first working documentation and preparations for the competitive procedures for ordering equipment.”

Going digital

ASE is also in the process of conducting a large-scale digital transformation programme aimed at switching to fully digital engineering technologies and developing the Multi-D platform to enter new markets. “Using the current Multi-D technology, ASE is taking the next logical step: to transition from digitisation of individual processes within the framework of a single Multi-D design technology to a single digital industrial and technological platform for managing the construction of both NPPs and any other complex engineering facilities,” Limarenko explained.

“The architecture of the digital platform and the concept of data management in engineering processes have already been developed taking into account the introduction of a single platform solution, and work has begun on developing a solution.”

He added that the digital platform Multi-D is already becoming popular on the market. “We are working on the possibility of introducing elements of technology in a number of large companies in the oil and gas industry, railways and the like. In parallel with Rosatom, ASE is participating in the programme to create a single digital product portfolio for the state corporation, which will include the main modules of the Multi-D technology.”

It is also in demand abroad. Foreign customers for Hanhikivi 1  in Finland, Paks II in Hungary, El-Dabaa in Egypt, and Bushehr II  in Iran, already prescribe a strict requirement for models of their nuclear plants with information technologies that make it possible to work with this model on the customer's premises. The main contracts include the development, filing of data and the transfer of an information management system (Multi-D IMS, Information Management System) to the customer, as well as ensuring the work of all project participants can take place in the common information space, for which the ASE is responsible.

Limarenko said EDF has also expressed interest “in our comprehensive approach to the management of information about nuclear power plants throughout the life cycle, using the information model of the facility and the methodology for managing the configuration of the station, worked out in the Multi-D IMS tool”. EDF is currently using the Multi-D system at one nuclear unit as a pilot project.