The Need for Advanced Safety: Nuclear Power Plants

Continuous improvements and maintenance are required of the fire safety systems at nuclear power plants due to the safety critical nature of the site. Incidents in nuclear power plants around the world have continued to demonstrate the vulnerability of safety systems to fire and its effects. The potential danger from an accident at a nuclear power plant is exposure to radiation to the people in the vicinity of the plume from the cloud and particles deposited on the ground, inhalation of radioactive materials and ingestion of radioactive materials. It is for this reason that the safety demands of the Atomic Energy Authority must be met.

The Dangers Presented by Fire

The International Atomic Energy Authority state clearly in the Fire Safety in the Operation of Nuclear Power Plants standards that the effects of a single failure in fire safety systems, such a system not performing its required function, can be detrimental.

One example of this is the Chernobyl disaster a catastrophic nuclear accident which cost approximately 18 billion roubles and had a huge human impact. In this disaster a combination of inherent reactor design flaws, together with the reactor operators arranging the core in a manner contrary to the checklist for the test, eventually resulted in uncontrolled reaction conditions that flashed water into steam generating a destructive steam explosion and a subsequent open-air graphite fire. This fire produced considerable updrafts for about 9 days, that lofted plumes of fission products into the atmosphere, with the estimated radioactive inventory that was released during this very hot fire phase, approximately equal in magnitude to the airborne fission products released in the initial destructive explosion. Over thirty years later and investment into the site is still required, with Flamgard Calidair providing fire shut off dampers to the Chernobyl, as part of an €1.5 billion multinational engineering project.

With fires at nuclear power plants still occurring, such as the 2017 power plant explosion at Flamanville, deemed “very serious” by industry experts, the call for advanced technology is of most importance. A significant technical issue led to a blast in the turbine hall in the unit, although there was no radioactive leak, a thorough investigation is being conducted into the concerning event.

Going Above & Beyond Standard Compliance

Coltraco Ultrasonics have met this demand with their provision of continuous monitoring to the gaseous extinguishing systems at power plants, offering a means to go above and beyond existing standards. The International Atomic Energy Authority rigorous standards are clear in their demands:

“2.13: Effective procedures for inspection, maintenance and testing should be prepared and implemented throughout the lifetime of the plant with the objective of ensuring the continued minimization of fire load, and the reliability of the installed features for detecting, extinguishing and mitigating the effects of fires.”

Three of the fire protection measures stated in the standards that should be regularly inspected, maintained and tested are:

- passive fire rated compartment barriers and structural components of buildings, including the seals of barrier penetrations
- a supply and distribution pipe
- gaseous and dry powder fire extinguishing system

Safesite Solutions: the future is 24/7 constant monitoring

Faced with this problem, a leading UK Nuclear family approached Coltraco Ultrasonics in 2003 and commissioned the first Permalevel®. Focused on continued advancement of safety technology, Coltraco have now developed the Permalevel® Multiplex, a fixed fire suppression monitoring device, designed for permanent contents verification. The Permalevel® Multiplex is designed to ensure that fire suppression systems are always fully operational and that no accidental discharge has occurred, which could affect the effectiveness of the overall fire protection system in the event of a fire at a nuclear power plant.

The application of the Permalevel® reaches further, with customers using this equipment in alternate specialist and confidential manners to ensure safety in the station. With guaranteed systems operations, adaptability for purpose, 24/7 remote access to the systems status, an interruptible power supply and remote real-time monitoring, the Permalevel® offers the efficiency that is now a requirement at nuclear energy sites. The likes of the Atomic Energy Authority asked Coltraco Ultrasonics to tailor make them a solution to constantly monitor a special application using the Permalevel® Single Point for over 10 years.

The Portascanner® 520 is the most mathematically accurate device available providing precise data concerning leak locations and aperture. It is unrivalled in its precision, non-invasive methodology and ease of use, and is the first unit of its kind to be available for a holistic approach to fire safety in complement to Coltraco’s range of equipment for testing fire extinguishing systems.

It is perfectly positioned to work alongside Door Fan testing in order to meet the total requirements for fire safety regulations and ensure the continuous fire protection of rooms using Clean Agent Fire Suppression systems. As Door Fan Testing has been proven to be a reliable and trusted method of room testing by industry experts, it is expected that its dominance shall continue in the near future. The immediate use of the Portascanner® lies in its improvement of the final stage of ultrasonic room integrity testing – the search for leak sites in the case of a leakage excess – for which it can vastly improve accuracy and operational efficiency. A device such as this has never been used before in this industry, and is the first to place emphasis directly on this important aspect of room integrity testing.

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