After adjusting its way of working during the pandemic the World Association of Nuclear Operators is adapting to better meet the needs of its members. Caroline Peachey spoke to WANO chief executive officer Ingemar Engkvist to learn more


A nuclear power plant. (Credit: Markus Distelrath from Pixabay)

The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) is a non-profit organisation that unites the world’s nuclear operators.

Its mission is maximising nuclear power plant safety and reliability. It works to assess nuclear plant performance through peer reviews, benchmark it and improve it by sharing information and best practice.

Like other businesses WANO, which has centres in London, Atlanta, Moscow, Toyko, Paris and Shanghai, had to close many of its sites when the pandemic struck and needed to develop new ways of working. “For us, Covid-19 had an impact,” says Ingemar Engkvist, chief executive officer at WANO, “but what we can’t see is an impact on the [nuclear] industry’s performance.”

Nuclear plant operators quickly adapted and prepared to take the actions necessary to continue operating during the pandemic. Engkvist says in some Eastern countries this meant power plants and their satellite cities were isolated, so staff were unable to go home to visit their families for many weeks. Initially, there were concerns that these new ways of working — and shift teams working with masks or managers working from home — might have had an impact on performance. So far, WANO cannot detect any negative impacts, although Engkvist notes some of the support missions that WANO regularly carries out had to be completed virtually.

“With restrictions in China, it made it more or less impossible for international travel,” says Engkvist. “However, we have recently opened a Shanghai office, which gave us the opportunity to use the staff in Shanghai to do the visits, with the support of the Regional Centres.” This helped limit the impact of Covid-19 and accelerated training of the staff in Shanghai, WANO says. But Engkvist believes that although there are now more options available, “having feet on the ground and eyes inside the plant” is key during the peer-review process, which looks for gaps to excellence.

COP connection

Another important event for the nuclear industry in 2021 was COP26, which WANO attended. With the increased focus and excitement around nuclear, Engkvist was keen to point out that WANO has more than 30 years of experience and is also willing to support newcomers by sharing best practices and carrying out peer review missions to ensure the highest levels of safety.

For example, WANO’s New Unit Assistance Working Group has published a Roadmap to Operational Readiness, which helps new nuclear projects worldwide build high-quality operational capabilities and achieve high levels of operational readiness in preparation for plant start-up.

The roadmap — available on WANO’s website — was developed by the working group with support from WANO, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). WANO also offers 17 ‘New Unit Assistance’ modules and specific support can be provided to new plants.

Belarus started the operation of its first nuclear power plant in 2020, and so did the United Arab Emirates. Both have received support from WANO. In December, experts from WANO’s Moscow Centre completed the pre-launch peer review at unit 2 of Belarus’s nuclear plant, near Ostrovets. Fuel has since been loaded into the VVER-1200 reactor and commissioning is underway.

Internal improvement

This year will see WANO transition to a new global operating model, which will see all centres offering consistent products and services.

A new long-term improvement initiative, ‘Action for Excellence — Shaping the Nuclear Future’, is also set to be rolled out in 2022. It aims to raise the performance of nuclear facilities worldwide. Currently, there are pilot plants around the world that are pioneering approaches and innovations.

In one pilot programme ‘enhanced performance monitoring’ Engkvist says that plant performance will be reviewed ‘more or less quarterly,’ and there will be conversations with the leadership of each member operator to give them a report on the station performance. Previously, major touchpoints with stations occurred only every four years, after peer reviews.

Plants piloting the AfE programmes include Qinshan in China, Loviisa in Finland and Borssele in the Netherlands. The aim is to run pilots in each region, Engkvist says. Other AfE pilots will focus on other aspects including organisational diagnostics and leadership, he adds.

“Implementation will not be finalised in 2022, because we need to develop the capacity to have all stations joining this,” says Engkvist.

He continues: “The biggest expectation from our members is to have a more and more frequent view of station performance. They are lining up. I think our capacity will be the limiting factor right now, but by 2025 I believe we will have all stations being monitored the way the pilots are being right now.”

This article first appeared in Nuclear Engineering International magazine.