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Idaho State University researchers and students demonstrate technology that could improve nuclear safety, productivity

April 16, 2015
ISU Marketing and Communications

Students and researchers at Idaho State University’s Energy Systems Technology and Education Center (ESTEC) are using already-available technology to find ways to potentially make nuclear power plants more cost-efficient, productive and safe.

The project, a collaboration between the ISU, Idaho National Laboratory and the Electric Power Research Institute, uses wireless technology to monitor the status of manual valves. Currently, in the nation’s 100 nuclear power plants, thousands of valves are adjusted by workers, then checked by other workers monitoring the process with paper and pen. With the system created by the students and researchers, a worker can adjust the valve, and it can be verified and monitored remotely.

On Wednesday, students from the ESTEC program demonstrated the technology to researchers from the Idaho National Laboratory.

“What we’re looking at is bringing wireless technology to a manual system,” said ESTEC Department Chair Lawrence Beaty.

The wireless sensors use well-established technology, Beaty said, simply used in a new way. The researchers and students used readily-available commercial parts, ensuring that the sensors could be easily retrofitted to existing valves in nuclear power plants.

“The goal was to develop a system that was non-intrusive,” he said.

Current operational procedures leave room for error, Beaty said, and the process of checking valves currently takes hundreds of man-hours per operation. Errors in the process could lead to equipment damage, or even leaking radioactive fluid.

“It’s expensive, and it’s not really good productivity,” Beaty said. “We are reducing human error and saving time.”

The next step for the project, INL team leader Vivek Agarwal said, is to adapt the system to work at the nuclear plant-level. Agarwal is confident about the idea’s future.

“I believe in the near future, every plant component of significance in a nuclear power plant is going to get sensor-tagged with wireless communication capability,” he said.

The project has been a great way to help not only the industry, but the students who will work in nuclear energy in the future, Beaty said.

“Getting the students involved makes a huge difference,” he said. “The learning these students obtained will stay with them throughout their careers.”


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