A complex and highly technical undertaking that spans several years, a nuclear refurbishment maximizes the lifespan of a facility through a process of inspecting, replacing and updating key components.  “In addition to component repairs and replacement, refurbishing a facility also provides opportunities to enhance safety,” explained Ramzi Jammal, Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer of the Regulatory Operations Branch of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

A complex and highly technical undertaking that spans several years, a nuclear refurbishment maximizes the lifespan of a facility through a process of inspecting, replacing and updating key components.

Powering Ontario’s future

When it’s completed, the mid-life refurbishment at Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) Candu reactors at Darlington will play an integral role in ensuring that electricity generation across Ontario remains safe, reliable and clean for another 25 to 30 years.

“As with any major project: it’s all about scope management and control,” explained Vice President of Refurbishment Execution at Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Mark Arnone.

“The objective when we started planning, in 2010, was to get an assessment, at the component level, of every single aspect that needed to be fixed or replaced.”

“In addition to component repairs and replacement, refurbishing a facility also provides opportunities to enhance safety.”

Excellence in safety

Recognized worldwide as being one of the top performing nuclear plants, Darlington is a good choice for refurbishment. It boasts features and technology that allow it to operate reliably and predictably.

This reliability is reflected in the plant’s safety record, which is one of the best of any nuclear facility operating in the world today.

“Darlington has continuously exceeded all expectations in terms of operations, and that really set the stage for us,” explained Refurbishment Project Director at OPG, Roy Brown.

“But we had to ask some questions: does it make sense financially? And, does it make sense in terms of the condition of the equipment and components at the plant?”

When they took all of the factors into play, and realized just how examplary Darlington's condition was, and how much financial sense a refurbishment at the site made, the OPG Board of Directors made the decision to proceed and planning was started.

“For Canadian nuclear power plants, improvements such as the installation of emergency systems and equipment to further strengthen the plants’ ability to prevent severe accidents or mitigate their consequences, are regulatory requirements post-Fukushima."

Innovative preparation

Historically, nuclear refurbishment projects have seen budget and cost targets exceeded, but the innovative approach to planning the Darlington refurbishment has given project managers a more realistic set of expectations for each stage of the redevelopment.

Before entering the planning stages, the project management team visited other refurbished nuclear facilities around the world to gauge for success and see if there were any lessons to be learnt from the experiences of others.

These discoveries led to the conception of the Darlington Energy Centre, a complex of more than 300,000 sq ft that will house a full-scale mock-up of the Darlington reactor.  The mock-up allows the Darlington workforce to practice their jobs in a realistic but controlled environment that is dimensionally accurate to the reactors in the station.

“It gives us the ability to test and train staff before they work inside the actual unit,” said Arnone. “Workers will be able to determine the best ways to do things; the best way to move about the building and how to move equipment in and out most efficiently.”

The mock-up station signifies a step forward in terms of nuclear refurbishment.

So, yes, the meticulous planning of the project will help the project to finish on schedule, and yes, it will help with sticking to budgets. But, most importantly, creating a mock station allows the staff to learn their roles completely and proficiently.

It’s a ground breaking approach for the nuclear industry and a big part of why OPG will be ready for the refurbishment.

Safety is the key and, as Jammal pointed out, industry regulations now reflect this viewpoint: “For Canadian nuclear power plants, improvements such as the installation of emergency systems and equipment to further strengthen the plants’ ability to prevent severe accidents or mitigate their consequences, are regulatory requirements post-Fukushima,” he said.