Compliance is driving growth for nuclear temperature sensors and condition monitoring technology, says Sébastien Ozenda, nuclear division manager for control and instrumentation specialists CMR Group. He tells NEI of some of the wider issues impacting a sector in transition.
NEI: What is condition monitoring in the nuclear sector and why is it important?
Sébastien Ozenda (SO): The condition monitoring of nuclear plant equipment involves measuring performance degradation over time and can be used to supplement existing practices by predicting the remaining useful life of plants such as power plants and gensets, among other electrical equipment.
In addition to current surveillance and diagnostic practices, condition monitoring can also provide benefits in terms of improved plant reliability and availability, delivering significant cost savings.
Events such as the energy accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in 2011 have focused attention on
a requirement for continual investment in the ongoing development of new condition monitoring technology to increase nuclear safety and compliance with requirements.
This is also driven by the pressing need to extend the life expectancy of the world’s 400 plus nuclear power plants, some of which have been operational for more than 50 years, providing over 10% of the world’s electricity production according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. A further 63 new nuclear plants are under construction in 15 countries. So it’s clear that nuclear energy will become more prevalent in the coming years as one of the world’s most reliable energy sources.
NEI: What are the strategic issues for suppliers like CMR providing products for the nuclear sensor specification?
SO: Sensors for nuclear applications have traditionally been relatively simple devices with known performance properties and predetermined failure characteristics. However, the industry is increasingly moving towards ‘smart sensors’, which can achieve greater accuracy, better noise filtering as well as better online calibration featuring the latest diagnostic capability. So, given the potential benefits of smart technology, it remains important for the nuclear industry to develop a suitable approach for justifying the application and integration of smart condition monitoring technology into wider systems that are safety critical.
In addition, smart, better-connected products offer opportunities for new functionality, far greater reliability, higher product utilisation, and value added capabilities that cut across and transcend traditional product boundaries. The changing nature of products is also affecting value chains, forcing nuclear operators to rethink their requirements while reshaping industry boundaries and creating new opportunities through ‘smarter’ connectivity.
Nowadays, the consideration of technology is far more important than in past years, and totally different. For example, most of the nuclear power station operators have created instrumentation departments to reflect the changing times and priorities which oversees the development and progress of all its nuclear instrumentation related projects. In this context, and on the back of its experience of supplying the sector since 1980s, CMR has taken the strategic decision to step-up the scope of its new product development work in compliance with new nuclear rules requirements.
NEI: What is driving the market?
SO: The nuclear energy market is driven by compliance and with governments around the world committed to the view
that nuclear energy has an important role to play in delivering their countries long- term requirements for secure, low carbon and affordable energy futures, the amount of regulation can only increase alongside effective and well-resourced regulatory bodies to protect the environment and society from the hazards of nuclear power.
As previously mentioned, the role instrumentation plays today is very important in the nuclear supply chain. It very much features on the radar of our customers, who want to know more about how the technology can solve their problems and add value throughout the engineering supply chain. And while cost is a factor during negotiation stages, the most important aspect always remains compliance with domestic nuclear safety authorities who provide regulation and technical approval.
NEI: Outside are there markets for your sensors and will you target them?
SO: France is a primary market but our strategy will also be applicable to other countries investing in their nuclear infrastructures, where it will gain increasing traction for us as new facilities come on stream and existing plants adopt new condition monitoring technologies to improve or extend their operational lifespan. We are seeing nuclear power proliferation around the world in China, South Korea, the US, Canada, India, Japan and the EU, which heralds opportunities for our K3 or K3ad sensors. These are environmentally compliant for the ambient temperature monitoring of fluid, gas and bearing temperatures and will compete for market share in an industry where there are only a handful of manufacturers designing and producing qualified instruments.
NEI: What is the future for your and other products in the nuclear sector?
SO: Against the backdrop of a transitioning global nuclear industry, the future for companies like CMR, who have a defined strategy supported by experience and technical expertise, has to be seen as strong. Our ambition is to be qualified to meet the highest compliance requirements in the nuclear sector. CMR’s ambitions are clear – we want to become an international leader in the sector, providing the same standards of quality and approval that we already deliver to French and EU markets to global customers.