The potential for remote inspection in the nuclear industry – Webinar

I’ve just listened to a Webinar “How to Implement Remote Inspection in the Nuclear Energy Sector?” organised by TUV SUD (I’m not sure about the question mark!).

It introduced the idea that one person could “walk the site” wearing smart glasses, while their colleagues watch from a remote location, request the walker stop to look at anything that catches their attention and ask questions through the walker. If accepted, this could complete an inspection with fewer on-site resources and will generate an audio-visual record of the inspection from which the report and conclusions can be written.

I’m not sure this is a particularly new concept; the nuclear industry, and probably others, use remote monitoring to support operators working in difficult areas where there is a balance between having all the skills and expertise to hand and minimising the size of entry teams. The use of smart glasses may be new and maybe adds another option to body worn cameras and infrastructure mounted cameras. The application to teams of off-site inspectors may be novel. The service offered seems to be the full sweep of technology, hardware and software, from the camera to the remote inspectors; with the lessons of experience and training offered as well. This may well be a unique service for the time being but barriers to entry are probably not high.

There were several questions to do with broadband signal, band width, data protection, cyber security and safety with the conclusion that this technique is well within current technical capabilities. It has been used maybe 10 -20 times in Europe and about 50 times in China.

This is an interesting concept and an area that is likely to develop in future. Why send a team of people to a remote site and then into an industrial or contaminated environment when you can send one person, or a robot?

The regulators would have to consider the qualifications and experience required of the on-site inspector, who would be much more than just a camera operator, and the conduct of any such inspection. The industry could consider if the technology has application in normal operations and accident response that adds to the capability already offered by site sensors, including cameras, and body worn cameras that they already use.

22/9/21

Impressions of the Emergency Services Show 2021

ESS 2021I attended the Emergency Services Show yesterday (7/9/21). As in the past this offers access to a large number of exhibitors and a range of short presentations.  I don’t plan my visit very well and just wondered up and down hoping to find all the interesting stalls. This meant I stopped and chatted to random people rather than worked down a list and that this review is therefore rather random.

Themes include vehicles and vehicle fittings, lights (lots of LEDs!), care for responders physical and mental wellbeing, cameras on drones, people, vehicles and poles, more drones with different capabilities, handheld devices to detect and measure threats, PPE & RPE and command and control systems, kit bags, ropes, pulleys etc.

There were several IT systems that allow you to integrate information feeds from cameras and other sensors dotted around the incident, radio messages from those on the ground and geographic knowledge. I didn’t take a close at these but now wish I’d spoken to someone about them. My concern (from a far!) with these is that they disrupt the information pyramid. You need a new team of people to sift through the information and identify what is important and what is changing. Having a sit-rep from the commander on the ground available to all to listen to when they wish is great, but how do you ensure that people are not still interpreting it as hot news long after it has been superseded? Having the reports of all the people on the ground, and all the videos, is also great but again come with a time cost if everybody stops to hear them. Will the remote Gold Commanders be tempted to take time to look at the video feeds and make their own situation analysis, by passing the Command structure on the ground? Is that always good, always bad or does it depend?

There were several immersive training environments, including VR sets and tents with scenes projected onto all the surfaces. These must be helpful in certain circumstances.

Handheld radiation monitors continue to develop with new crystal materials, larger crystals and, more importantly, much more on-board computing capability. Southern Scientific were showing CBRNe handhelds while kromek were showing a range of handheld and wearable gamma and neutron detectors with Bluetooth and USB comms, including some with the ability to identify isotopes. I find some of the claims a little hard to believe but these companies have happy customers whose expertise and judgement in these matters I’d place ahead of mine.

There are also a number of training tools that are realistic looking handhelds, such as those offered by Argon Electronics, that report injected exercise data rather than live readings. Obviously potentially useful.

It was interesting to talk to the people at the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) stand. This organisation tries to find innovations that can be exploited by the UK defence and security services and help with their development. They do this by a combination regional “innovation partners”, who provide advice to organisations and individuals about the potential merits of their ideas and how best to develop them and through more focussed “competitions” to cover identified needs. Funds are available for promising technologies at different stages of development and for the full range of company size. Their website has interesting case studies.

A car sized fire blanket from Fire Hosetech caught my attention. This is designed to manage lithium-ion battery fires which must be contained until they burn out. These reusable blankets can withstand temperatures up to 1,600 degC and reduce the spread of toxic fumes and contamination.

I also stopped to look at Fortress Distribution’s attempt to reduce the world’s usage of disposable shoe covers with plastic “Yuleys” which you step into and out of in a hands-free manner. Their design use seems to be for trades working indoors and out to prevent treading dirt inside but I wondered if they could replace single use shoe covers in contaminated areas. One issue being that they cover the sole of the shoe and the sides to a certain extent but not the top which I suspect is an idea killer. The other questions would include how much work was involved keeping them clean and how many reuses would be required to cover their own environmental costs?

Also worthy of a mention is the National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffield which showed a few of its vehicles. Got to be worth a visit if in the area.

ESS 21 vintage vehicle

 

 

 

The Emergency Services Show is well worth a visit by emergency planning and response professionals although it is not focussed on us. It gives an opportunity to see how the Emergency Services, with whom we work, are developing and an opportunity to keep an eye on technology developments and themes.

NEI Small and Advanced Reactors: Virtual Event 18/2/21

This was an on-line event organised by Nuclear Engineering International bringing together a collection of speakers to provide updates on the development of, and potential for, small and advanced reactors.

The website opened with a picture of a conference centre with signs to various “places” which you could enter with a click. Entering the auditorium showed a timetable for the conference and allowed the user to listen to the current talk. After the event all presentations were available to listen to again. The Exhibition Hall allowed you to read or download publicity material and watch promo videos from a number of developers of SMRs. The Networking Lounge allowed you to read and join a number of text threads with representatives of the Companies involved.

This was a brave, and very welcome attempt, to recreate the functionality of a conference. It couldn’t provide the impromptu chats in the queue for a cup of tea, which are a vital part of conferences in the real world, nor recreate the sensation of sitting in an uncomfortable chair wishing the tea break was nearer while trying to concentrate on a talk. I admit to doing other things, such as catching up on shredding old documents, while listening to talks.

We live in an interesting time where there are limited funds for investment, a growing need for energy, a growing urgency to be more careful with the planet we call home and a lack of consensus on the way forward. Candidate solutions for the future include greater energy efficiency, reduced per-capita consumption, renewable energy solutions with solar and wind being the main growth areas, and more nuclear power. Within nuclear power there is competition between ever larger and more complex reactor systems, large but “simplified” reactors, and smaller reactor systems.

This conference was about the small reactors, seen by many as the solution to the “too big” problem with full sized reactor systems. One stated advantage are that smaller cores make less demand on the engineering of large pressure vessels and containment buildings. The control and safety systems can be bought closer, even into the pressure vessel, and a greater reliance can be put on passive accident management systems. But the unique selling point is the contention that these reactors can be produced, either as a number of modules or complete, in factories, shipped to site by road, plugged in and they are off. This considerably reduces the construction risks and build time resulting in a quicker achievement of a positive cash flow. The reactors are less powerful but it is easy to line up multiple reactors to give higher outputs while the smaller output makes them suitable in areas that cannot be served by 1000+ MW units.

It was explained that the UK SMR reuses existing design and technology but the innovation is chiefly working out how to factory build it. The system is “low cost, deliverable and investable” with 80% of UK content. The next step, which starts this year, is GDA. This is important for the UK context but is also a badge of honour around the world. The ambitious plan for acceleration includes parallel identification and development of the site and the placing orders before the GDA is complete. It is suggested that they might fit well on NDA sites which have a nuclear history but are not big enough for gigawatt plant such as Trawsfynydd. After the first of kind a factory might be expected to produce two systems a year. If orders were to be higher then further factories could be built. In this manner the 5th unit should be 20 – 30% cheaper than first, down to about £50 kW.

Funding is in place for the GDA phase but not beyond. The company is lobbying for the UK policy situation to develop and sites to be identified. The company is confident that once production is underway then debt and equity vehicles will be sufficient to move them forward but government bridging funds may be needed to get there.

This was an upbeat talk but the reality is that they are playing in a crowded field and the UK has a poor record of being able to deliver fleet savings in nuclear build (except maybe in the nuclear submarine world where the figures are less well publicised) and has, for years, lacked a suitably forward looking and coherent energy policy. They are also competing with Russians and Canadians with a more obvious local market and a clearer path to that market and the Chinese with their very large investments in a range of nuclear technology. Too much depends on the UK government.

The IAEA has set up an International Technical Working Group on Small and Medium-Sized or Modular Reactors (SMR) with a number of sub-groups enabling international collaboration in the development of SMR and their applications. They have produced a booklet reviewing 72 designs, developed technology roadmaps for SMR deployment, generic user’s requirements and criteria and a tool for the economic appraisal. Interestingly (for me anyway) they have a project running looking at the emergency planning requirements for SMRs due to report in December of this year. (See IAEA material at https://www.iaea.org/topics/small-modular-reactors). The fact that there are 72 designs on offer shows up a problem. It is relatively cheap and sexy to design a reactor system and many organisations do this hoping to get a slice of future markets. Most fall out of the race and represent a waste of effort.

Rosatom claim to have “SMR solutions in Russia and for the global market”. They are developing and building small reactors for icebreakers, for floating power plant and for land based systems. Floating power plant are expected to be used in the North, replacing diesel, coal and old nuclear generators and providing heat and electricity. Because they are built in a shipyard they need very little local building and are floated away at end of life rather than decommissioned in-situ. They can also be repositioned mid-life if required. Their newer reactor designs are more compact.

By using these reactors in icebreakers (4 vessels each with 2 reactors) they have already achieved significant fleet savings (that pun was not intended). They also have identified markets, home and foreign, for the floating and land-based variants.

It appears that Russia has a very credible SMR programme with proven designs and proven markets.

We were told about “The Progress of HTR-PM in China”. This is a high temperature gas cooled reactor with ceramic coated fuel (TRISO particles, pebble bed format) and helium coolant. The programme has a long history including the reactors HTR-10 & HTR-PM and extensive engineering laboratory work. Almost all of the components are built in China. Unusually they have two reactors in parallel providing steam to a single turbine. Each reactor can provide 250 MW.th and 210 MW.e with cores 3m diameter x 11m high. Inlet 250 oC out 750 oC producing superheated steam. HTR-PM is currently in hot-testing with first criticality expected this year.

They now have proven technology and have plans to move forward. HTR-PM600 (650MW) will have six reactors feeding one turbine.  These will be used for co-generation and to repower coal power stations. An aspiration is to go to higher temperatures for hydrogen production.

Some ideas on financing SMRs and Advanced Reactors were presented. The poor track record of on-time completion, very high capital requirements and long times before return have given the industry a bad name and mean that nuclear is often a “bet-the-company” investment. Contract for difference and Regulated Asset Base are two attempts to manage the high cost of money in big build public interest projects.

It was suggested that SMRs significantly reduce all of the finance and risk problems of big-nuclear. They should be able to complete on programme, capital demands are lower, lead times are shorter, costs of delays are less and costs are such that they are not bet-the-company investments. Therefore they can be treated as conventional assets.

SMRs are like aircraft in many respects. Both are built in factories, safety critical, and highly regulated and are deployed as a fleet.  Interestingly it was claimed that an SMR requires a similar investment as an Airbus A-380 [I tried to verify this and found getting the numbers quite difficult but seems to be in the right ball park. The clearest cost estimate I found was a 12 unit NuScale (924 MWe) estimated to cost $2,850 per kWe giving costs of $2,633 Million (NuScale brochure) compared to $428 Million for an Airbus A380 (one unit not 12) https://247wallst.com/aerospace-defense/2015/12/26/how-much-does-an-airbus-a380-cost/ ).  As for large aircraft it is conceivable that SMRs could be sold on a Sale and Leaseback in which the lessee pays purchase price in instalments over a set period of time before becoming owners. The payments are treated as expenses rather than capital investment and the utility doesn’t have the liability for the plant on its books. An alternative is an operating lease in which the Lessor pays only rent and not pay-down of the capital costs, making it more affordable and viable in areas that could not afford nuclear power under current arrangements. It is hard to see a factory owner or a community buying one of these for cash to provide their energy needs over the next 20 years but they might lease one if it gives them reliable low-cost energy. It is noted that if the SMR is mobile (for example floating) it can be moved mid-life and follow the money.

There were a series of shorter presentations within chaired panel discussions. These provided a number of viewpoints.

Micro-reactors (up to about 10 MWe) are in various stages of development and licensing with some hoping to be building first of a kind systems in the next few years. Russia and China are further along the development line.

They use a range of technologies; some use components from existing larger reactors or the aviation industry, some use more novel components such as heat tubes to remove the heat. All of these reactors are designed to be accident tolerant, they can be used to produce heat or electricity and some are combined with molten salt energy stores to balance supply and demand.

It was claimed that the NuScale Advanced Small Reactor with 12 (or 4 or 6) 77 MWe units would have a site fence emergency planning zone (I’ll wait to see the ONR judgement on that!) and no radioactive release in normal operation, events or decommissioning.

A joint study which shows small nuclear being cost-competitive was cited (https://www.oecd-nea.org/jcms/pl_51110/projected-costs-of-generating-electricity-2020-edition?details=true). A representative of the WNA put forward the view that the world should concentrate its efforts into a smaller number of design concepts (I agree) and that international harmonisation of reactor design approval was required (not very likely in my opinion).

All of the speakers agreed that the demand for electricity will rise, outstripping the capacity of renewables, as it is increasingly used for transport and domestic heating while the burning of hydrocarbons becomes less acceptable. (Estonia has an additional issue in that its grid connections to Russia are expected to be cut in 2025 and they want to move away from dirty shale gas that they currently burn).

The initial target market is remote communities with a need for district heating and electricity although industrial uses, mining, disaster response, hospitals, campuses, military bases, data centres, desalination, and hydrogen production were all mentioned as potential users.

A question about competition from solar power/wind power and batteries was dodged. But a later speaker stated that small grids with wind and solar would benefit from a nuclear component providing reliable generation and also the “spinning metal” required to control frequency and voltage and also reported an ability to black start (without grid supplies) some micro-reactors.

Interestingly all speakers were more fluent when discussing the potential market than when discussing operators. If these reactors are to penetrate markets as single, remote units it will not on sites with 500+ nuclear skilled employees. Getting licensed to operate them will have to be no more difficult than getting licences to run industrial process plant or they will run into difficulty. Will the regulators accept local “semi-skilled” operators with remote technical support?

Canada’s action plan for SMR was the subject of a panel discussion. It introduced the Candu Users Group (COG) and its Small and Modular Reactor Group. Canada has a proud history in nuclear technology and now has a large industry of strategic importance. The action plan (www.Smrroadmap.ca) has 53 recommendations which have translated to 497 actions. This is a broad coalition of 210 partners.

The Canadians have identified three streams of effort; fast development of SMRs with the potential to replace coal generation (a requirement of Canada’s environmental policy), the development of advanced reactors for a variety of purposes including use of used fuel, and the development of very small SMRs (vSMR) to replace diesel in off-grid situations (remote communities and industrial sites).

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is readying itself for the SMR programme with recruitment, a regulatory framework and reports on the potential issues. Their aim is to ensure safety and social acceptance without putting barriers in the path of progress.

The coherence and comprehensiveness of the Canadian plan is impressive. If only the UK could do something along the same lines.

This was an interesting day and provided ample evidence that there is a market position for small and micro reactors, with small reactors feeding national grids, process heat and hydrogen production and micro reactors providing power to remote communities and industries. There seem to be no insurmountable technology issues. The issues will be development finance and public acceptability and then the costs of ownership. Canada and Russia have advantages from obvious domestic markets at the high cost end. China has the advantage of a diverse nuclear industry and seemingly no limit to development funds. The UK obviously has the technical ability in this area with its commercial nuclear industry and nuclear powered submarine programme but it lacks the niche markets, clear funding and national strategy. There will be more in the market for multiple players. The UK will have to work hard to get a slice of that market.

The remote conference was not without technical issues and the posing of questions by text during the talk couldn’t replicate post-talk discussions. But the presentations and Q&As were available to review after the event.

I am grateful to Nuclear Engineering International for organising this event and to the speakers for their efforts. Next time I’d prefer to attend in person but this was a very welcome interlude in a lockdown.

Keith Pearce, Feb 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) visits ONR

In October 2019 there was an IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) visit to the UK. Its report can be found <here>.

The IAEA state that: “The Integrated Regulatory Review Service helps host States strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of their regulatory infrastructure for nuclear, radiation, radioactive waste and transport safety.

IRRS teams evaluate a State’s regulatory infrastructure for safety against IAEA safety standards. The teams compile their findings in reports that provide recommendations and suggestions for improvement, and note good practices that can be adapted for use elsewhere to strengthen safety. Mission reports describe the effectiveness of the regulatory oversight of nuclear, radiation, radioactive waste and transport safety and highlight how it can be further strengthened”. <here>

Prior to the visit the UK authorities conducted a self-assessment and presented a preliminary action plan and supporting documents. The IRRS team, which consisted of 18 senior regulatory experts from 14 IAEA Member States, 2 IAEA staff members and 1 IAEA administrative assistant, and 3 observers, reviewed these and a number of other documents before their visit and then spent two very busy weeks in the UK. This included interviews with 16 regulatory bodies and governmental departments.

Of particular interest to me are the references to emergency planning.

The mission commented that the “emergency planning zones established under REPPIR 2019 are not fully in alignment with the requirements of GSR part 7”. They recommend that the “Government should review the UK EP&R framework to explain how the requirements of GSR Part 7 are met in terms of planning zones and distances, and if any gap exists develop appropriate regulatory requirements”.

We must remember that GSR part 7 is IAEA advice and its section 2 states that it is “established in addition to and not in place of other applicable requirements, such as those of relevant binding conventions and national laws and regulations”. It goes on to say that where there is conflict between the GSR-7 and other requirements “the government or the regulatory body, as appropriate, shall determine which requirements are to be enforced”. I would expect that the ONR would have to champion UK regulation over IAEA advice.

We know that the UK “planning zones” do not match those of the IAEA. The UK zones have developed over many years and have, in the past, suited the UK emergency planning framework. REPPIR-19 was an opportunity to undertake a review of planning zones but it was an opportunity missed. The current system of a DEPZ with a torturous definition and an arbitrary outline planning zone does nobody any favours.

GSR-7 defines a precautionary action zone (PAZ) where arrangements are made to implement urgent protective actions and other responses before any significant release in order avoid or to minimize SEVERE DETERMINISTIC effects. This is severe accident territory and a release profile consistent with older designs of contained reactors for which a containment failure after several days of heating up was conceivable. So the PAZ as described in GSR-7 does not seem to make a great deal of sense in the modern world.

The next IAEA zone is the urgent protective action planning zone (UPZ). This is an area where arrangements have been made to initiate urgent protective actions and other response actions, if possible before any significant release of radioactive material occurs, on the basis of conditions at the facility, and after a release occurs, on the basis of monitoring and assessment of the radiological situation off the site, in order to reduce the risk of stochastic effects. This is broadly similar to the plans at many British sites where some protective actions are initiated on declaration and then thought is given to extending their scope and range if conditions merit it. It is important to realise that, in the UK, the default protective action areas are contained within the DEPZ but not defined by it.

The IAEA have an extended planning distance (EPD), beyond the urgent protective action planning zone, for which arrangements are made to implement further protective actions if monitoring and assessment on the day show that they may reduce stochastic effects if implemented within a day to a week or up to a few weeks following a significant radioactive release. UK outline planning and the gap between the automatic protective action zone and the DEPZ, sort of covers this zone.

Finally the IAEA define an ingestion and commodities planning distance (ICPD) beyond the extended planning distance where plans are in place to protect the food chain and water supply. That this zone is missing in the UK regulation does not mean that the relevant protective actions are not given the attention they deserve. The control of potentially contaminated food and drink is covered in REPPIR-19 (it is part of the operator’s consequence report and mentioned throughout guidance).

The “zones” are a bit arbitrary; are a planning tool and are best reserved for describing the national concept of operations to be applied to a fleet of reactor sites rather than to a particular site. Excellent emergency plans could be written without any use of the terms DEPZ and OPZ. What really matters is that the emergency plan is capable of initiating sensible default protective actions without delay and then rapidly considering the situation and responding to the particular characteristic of the emergency as those characteristics emerge.

I’d prefer to see a process in which the protective actions comes first and the zones second. Sensible plan compontents include:

  • On-site. UK plans tend to be quiet about what happens to the people (possibly several hundred) on the site. I’ve heard reservations about evacuating the site despite the fact that it is probably the only sensible thing to do because it will alarm sheltering residents. Cooping employees up in “mustering stations” i.e. the works canteen does not seem viable beyond a few hours and provides them with little protection.
  • An automatic protective action plan where shelter/exclusion and stable iodine are pre-planned in detail and initiated without discussion on declaration over an area likely to require them in a reasonably foreseeable emergency. (This could be a keyhole shape informed by the wind direction on the day).
  • A deliberative protective action plan that looks at how the protective actions of shelter and stable iodine could be extended further downwind if required and under what circumstances. This plan should detail the monitoring required to support decision making, the decision making process and how the protective actions will be achieved in a timely manner.
  • An agricultural precautionary protective action plan, where thought is given to how far downwind food interventions might be needed as an automatic action and as a deliberated action, what these might be and how they might be achieved. Informing farmers of the implications of this would be part of the public information cycle.
  • An evacuation plan looking at the circumstances under which authorities might want to evacuate areas close to the site (including the potentially hundreds of people on the site) and how it could be done.
  • A communication plan considering how people in the area will be informed of the plans and their parts in them, before any event and how they will be alerted and advised on the day. 

The US concepts of “plume exposure zone” and “ingestion pathway emergency planning zone” are rather more logical than the IAEA ones.

Neither the GSR-7 or REPPIR-19 planning zones definitions are ideal. Since REPPIR-19 has recently been introduced and the planning zones all reviewed there is likely to be little appetite in the UK to make any changes so it will be interesting to see how the ONR cope with this recommendation.

Plant Data

Another observation made by the mission was that “ONR does not have previously agreed format for plant data and information transfer during an emergency” coupled with the suggestion that “ONR should consider establishing pre-defined communication with the operating organizations in terms of plant data and other information during emergencies”.

The big questions here are “what plant data would be useful to ONR?” and “What would they do with it if they had it?”

If ONR were going to analyse plant data in real time and use it to generate advice to the local responders and the national government they would have to greatly extend their expertise in reactor accident management. This would only be a good idea if (a) there is something worth measuring i.e. there are parameters such as temperature, pressure, radiation levels, flow rates that can give the responders better knowledge of what is happening and what is likely to happen next (b) that data is measured and displayed somewhere (c) the ONR know what it means and will definitely be there to interpret it and (d) we don’t really trust the operator to correctly analyse and report the situation.

If ONR just need the data to be better informed spectators then I’d rather not bother.

I remember talking around this subject several times in relation to the rather primitive Magnox reactors. The conclusion was that there were very few parameters that were useful and could be measured and transmitted after a major cooling circuit failure and ignition of a fuel channel fire or two and unless they had happened there wasn’t really a problem. We always thought it would be different with PWRs which have far more instruments and loss of cooling accident sequences with periods where temperatures and pressures could be rising and threatening containment integrity.

RCIS

Another observation was that “The RCIS provides ONR with adequate infrastructure to respond in emergencies and its staff has been increased significantly in recent years. However, ONR does not have an overarching emergency response plan that defines its response objectives, the organizational response structure and functions, how the response actions are coordinated within the RCIS and its external stakeholders, etc. There are RCIS procedures for each position; however, these procedures are not linked together with an overarching document. The new ONR management system, under development, does not currently include a sub-process of ONR EP&R capability maintenance”.

It is a bit surprising that ONR has such a large structure and has recently extended it without actually articulating its objectives. I wonder if everyone has the same view about what it is for.

The mission goes on to observe that “the ONR does not have an overarching emergency response and preparedness plan to coordinate the response functions and maintain response capability within the RCIS. The action plan identified the ONR does not have a formal training and qualification programme for its staff responding to an emergency” and suggests that “The ONR should consider integrating its response arrangements into a response and preparedness plan and formalize training and qualification of emergency response staff”. This could be summarised as “if you are going to do something, understand why you are doing it, work out how you are going to do it and make sure your people know how to do it on the day”. On the face of it, this is sensible advice. 

Having been on both sides of this type of exercise I recognise that only a small fraction of the worth of the exercise is held in the final report. Being on the receiving side and trying to justify your plans and planning process against a polite but sustained challenge from a team of experts who are used to looking at things differently forces you to think deep in a way that the day job seldom does. You learn a lot.

Similarly being on the away team you read reports and think you’ve found gaps but, in discussion, you become to realise that different is not wrong and often where you see gaps you’ve missed the filling in a different component of the plan. They do some things, maybe a lot of things differently to you and many of them they do better than you. Everybody learns, everybody wins.

Keith Pearce, January 2021

DEPZ Determinations under REPPIR-19

I am interested to see what impact on DEPZs we see following the introduction of REPPIR-19 and the bizarre way they are now set. With REPPIR-01 the size and shape of the DEPZ was in the gift of the ONR who had a cumbersome process covering technical, practical and strategic issues (see here). They had detailed discussions with the operator about the site’s safety case and the potential for accident. In this discussion both sides fielded teams of experts, well versed in safety cases and nuclear emergency plans. These discussions could take years.

In REPPIR-19 the safety case still exists and is still discussed at great length between the teams of experts within the operator and ONR organisation. This is a never ending cycle of review and revision.

Under regulation 4 of REPPIR the operator “must make a written evaluation before any work with ionising radiation is carried out for the first time at those premises” (a later clause includes continuing work) and must be “sufficient to identify all hazards arising from the work which have the potential to cause a radiation emergency”. The operator must provide “details of the evaluation” to the ONR. We start to move away from the safety case. Intriguingly this regulation does not require the ONR to bless the work but we can safely assume that if they think it substandard they will require a discussion and a revision. Can’t we?

Under regulation 5 the operator must make an assessment to consider and evaluate a full range of possible consequences of the identified radiation emergencies. This also goes to the ONR but, again, no blessing is mentioned in the regulation.

Regulation 7 requires that the operator produce a consequence report and send it to the local authority. This report is not even a précis of the large body of work that has gone on before. It tells the local authority where the site is, recommends a minimum size for the DEPZ, and discusses which protective actions may be required promptly and how far downwind they should go. This is a very brief document.

Regulation 11 then requires the local authority to consult with a range of organisations and set a DEPZ. What seems to be happening is a local authority officer writes a paper for the council setting out the options (in some cases that might be “this is the proposed DEPZ accept or reject?”). This is discussed at a meeting at which it may not be the only matter to discuss and either rejected or accepted. Did I mention that the local authorities were given a matter of weeks between receiving the consequence reports and having to set the DEPZ by law?

So setting the size of the DEPZ has gone from being in the remit of the national regulator, with teams of experts and able to take their time and apply the same policy uniformly across the UK, to a rushed decision by local authorities who are reassured in the guidance that they don’t need to understand the technical background to the subject. That will work.

I’ll keep track of DEPZ determinations at http://www.katmal.co.uk/reppir2019progress.html .

The physics of the Chernobyl accident

My latest book, an attempt to explain the Chernobyl accident to people who know a bit about physics but not a lot, placing it between the many accounts that have concentrated on the human story and some very technical reports, is now available on amazon after a professional work over by Art Works who have greatly improved the layout and type setting.

Find it at https://amzn.to/33lHN6w

Space For Smarter Government Programme – Showcase 2017

SSGP ShowcaseI attended the Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP) Showcase in November 2017 in the BEIS Conference Centre in London. The slides from last year’s event can be found on the SSPG website (here). We can expect similar publication of this event in due course.

The stated purpose of SSGP is “Enabling the public sector to save money, innovate and make more effective policy decisions by using space technology and data”. The premise being that the capabilities offered by space science including Earth Observation and Communications offers the ability to deliver some current programmes of work more efficiently and to deliver capabilities that were previously unavailable. The progress made is hampered by the lack of understanding by the potential customers of the abilities available and the lack of understanding of the needs of the customers on the part of those developing the technology. This showcase is one of the attempts to get the two sides to communicate more effectively and drive forward better and more cost effective government services. The term used was “willing partnership”.

A number of projects were showcased. These included

  • improving the management of peat lands and thereby improving water quality and lowering costs in Scotland;
  • improving the monitoring of the health of forests;
  • Improving the monitoring of land usage, in particular which crops are being grown;
  • Improving the monitoring of flood water and areas at risk.

These projects relied on the ability of data analysis to look at how the signals from earth observation vary in relationship to what is on the ground and to calibrate it against relatively small scale land-based surveys. Once the system is calibrated it can cover very large areas quickly and provide a lot of information and/or help focus ground resources. This has resulted in significant savings in the costs of inspections while improving their coverage.

Earth observation can also highlight changes from period to period, allowing unexpected changes to be investigated on the ground.

The real prizes are gained when different datasets such as ground surveys or instruments, drones, helicopters and satellites are combined. Each adds different levels of resolution and area covered to give a big picture.

In the area of air quality there are significant improvements in the data sets available. This includes improvements in the resolution and repeat period (numbers quoted were moving from a resolution of 20 km squares to 7 km squares and a repeat frequency from once a day to hourly). The speed at which data can be released for analysis is also improving – down to three hours in one example quoted.

We also heard of studies

  • looking at the reusability of applications in an effort to improve uptake. A project which proactively looks (looked?) at applications in use or development and considered other uses of the output within government departments.
  • The development of a “digital twin” for infrastructure aiming to optimise maintenance and replacement programmes by improving the knowledge of the state of infrastructure and the loads on it.
  • The use of satellite data and communications to help monitor the conditions of the NDA’s estate which is widely distributed and in some relatively inaccessible locations.
  • A team dedicated to forming a bridge between the developers and potential users by being aware of developments and capabilities and trawling government departments seeking potential uses. Experience from this is that end users generally don’t always want to see complex maps or charts but want an answer to a question. The knack is to enable the providers to provide a service while insulating the end user from the technology and jargon.

RS&KIP
Keith Pearce (Katmal Limited) and Rick Short (NDA) at the SSGP workshop

It is worth noting that the software being developed is developed with the future in mind. The developers know that there will be more data and more varied data in the future. Some of this they can predict. Some of it, particularly further out in time, they can only guess at.

There was a session on the use of satellite data in an emergency and in the recovery stages. Data can show the near-current situation over a wide area and can show how it has changed since before the emergency. It can also enable secure digital communications with minimal and resilient ground equipment – although questions were asked about band width which can be an issued with multiple units in a small area.

There is a nice summary of the state of play of Environmental Earth Observation in the Houses of Parliament PostNote 566.

It seems clear that the use of satellite data has the potential to transform many services but is currently being hampered by a development and adoption barrier. The great strength of satellites is their wide area coverage and repeat rate. The weakness is that the information has to be extracted from vast amounts of digital data and, at least in the development phase, compared to ground truth surveys. The strength will go on growing as more satellites and more modern satellites provide ever more data. The weakness will diminish as experience increases; more applications will be developed and computers will become more capable of sifting the data and illuminating the interesting bits. Importantly, once an application works in, say, Hampshire it can be applied, with virtually no additional cost, in the Highlands of Scotland or, indeed, anywhere in the world. There is a great deal to be gained from getting over the development and adoption barrier, both for the functions of UK government and for future exports or foreign aid in kind. The Space for Smarter Government Programme is of great value and well worth support.SSPG

© Katmal Limited

Emergency Services Show 2017

Emergency Services Show 2017, NEC, Birmingham 21 September 2017

This show filled a large hall at the NEC with nearly 500 exhibitors and several small lecture theatres providing short presentations.

The highlights of my day there included two talks and some interesting developments that are described below.

Luana Avagliano and Ben Platt gave a presentation on Resilience Direct. I was interested that her advice was to think of the most extreme outcome and prepare for that. This is increasingly a theme in government emergency planning/resilience which is replacing the concept of planning in detail for the worst reasonably foreseeable event (itself pretty bad and of low probability) and in less detail for the extreme events (extendibility). The loss of this “proportionality” makes emergency planning much more expensive.

Her other theme was the importance of recovery. It is true that we used to plan in detail for initiating an emergency response (when to call people, who to call, what to tell them, where to collect them together, and their roles and responsibilities including initial actions). The idea being that once they were up and running they’d manage the initial issues and then move into recovery when the time was right. As time went on the “recovery” bit became a bit more visible and was tested to an extent. However, recent events have shown that the media, and then the public, are unmerciful towards any perceived failure to make the victims comfortable in the hours, days and weeks following an event and that a swift return to the old normality is considered a minimum expectation. It is right to give this area attention. Community resilience is about getting back to normality as quickly and as painlessly as practical no matter what the shock.

Ben spoke about the new lessons learned processes being added to the Resilience Direct platform. They appear to be well thought out and comprehensive.

Paul Channing from Hampshire Fire and Rescue give a talk on their “safe and sound” programme. This is on online application that asked a few questions (it was designed to take no more than a few minutes) and then based on the answers provides a personalised safety brief. For example if you answer that there are no smokers in the household it doesn’t give the advice on fire safety with regard to smoking. If you have people over 65 in the household it asks more questions and, where appropriate, points to the “safe and well” project that provides advice and practical help to this age range.

This appears to be a well-managed project with a clear focus, targeting the key domestic fire risks, linking to related projects, using focus groups to help with the design, collecting data for feedback and presenting easy to understand customised advice to the user.

The idea of using a short questionnaire in this context; where do you live? What age ranges live there? Risk factors etc. before giving customised advice is obvious once you’ve heard it but clever.

Products

I was impressed by Horizonscan which is a company that offers business continuity training but also offers “Crisis boardroom”, a crisis pack consisting of a large suitcase which, in turn, contains a number of other bags each of which contain laminated Command and Control Boards, individual tabards and name tags, stationary and role aide-memoirs. It appears to provide a complete crisis management tool kit in one bag. The tools themselves seemed to be well thought out, designed and produced.

This would be a good place to start for any Company seeking to introduce business continuity to their board as the tool kit provided looks the part.

I’ve mentioned 999-eye from PageOne before. I think that it is a product that would be useful in the nuclear industry.

I liked the orvecare thermal emergency blanket so much that I bought two, one for my car and one for my wife’s car. It takes up less room than the sleeping bag I used to carry in the boot in winter and can stay there all year. It might one day prove useful.

The AlfaDrop Box does look like a possible candidate for a rapidly deployable “space”. It could be a control room, a shelter, a store, or a change facility – whatever. With the vehicle at about £39k and the boxes from £7k upward you could have one vehicle and many boxes which could be deployed quite quickly. Thunderbirds are go! (See video).

Finally a quick message to the organisers. We all now know that LEDs can make bright lights in a range of colours and can flash. We also know that human ingenuity can think of lots of ways of using them. The exhibition room was full of the damn things making it a quite uncomfortable working environment. Maybe in future limit “lights on” for five minutes every hour?

Natural Hazards Partnership

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Natural Hazards Partnership

I came across the Natural Hazards Partnership at the Emergency Services Show. Their role is to “provide authoritative and consistent information, research and analysis on natural hazards for the development of more effective policies, communications and services for civil contingencies, governments and the responder community across the UK” (Quote from their information pack).

 

The Information Pack they were giving out is nicely packaged, a few pages of description and analysis of each of the main natural hazards identified. These are from their Science Notes. It is a shame that their Daily Hazard Assessment is only available via Hazards Manager. Those of us in SMEs are unable to gain access.