Even as other process industries realize significant benefits when they move from primarily document-centric asset management systems to data-centric systems, the nuclear power industry has yet to make the change. At least one study suggests it is time to do so.

Managing and maintaining all of the diverse pieces of information that relate to the physical configuration of a large industrial facility like a nuclear power plant is no simple task. Implementation of an advanced configuration management information system (CMIS) provides significant operational and economic benefits. An integrated CMIS encompasses data and information for all phases of the plant life cycle, including licensing, design, procurement, construction, testing, operations, maintenance, and decommissioning.

A recent Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) study estimated opportunity savings of $8 billion for the 100 operating U.S. nuclear power plants over the next 20 years of operation by implementing a data-centric CMIS, and more than $1 billion for the four U.S. new nuclear plants under construction over their projected 80-year life.

Siloed Databases

At a typical nuclear plant today, data exists in many siloed databases, each maintained with different levels of change control. The database for managing the flow-accelerated corrosion program, for example, is not the same as the one managing the equipment reliability program. Much of the data overlaps, and keeping the siloed databases up to date in a consistent manner is challenging when the plant is changed.

A CMIS that is not data-centric requires the plant staff to find the data in a document or siloed database and then verify that it is accurate and updated. Before the data can be used, users frequently must resolve document revisions, resolve naming discrepancies, assure consistency with the design basis, and assure compliance with licensing commitments.

EPRI has found that plant staff spends 30% to 40% of their time searching and validating information in multiple documents, which often give conflicting results. This leads to lack of confidence that technical data needed to make decisions is readily available to evaluate a given design or licensing issue.

The premise of data-centric configuration management is that decisions are made on data, not documents. Documents are still maintained as the record of the source of the data, but to support effective decision-making, data is centralized, accurate, change-controlled, and easily retrievable.

A typical nuclear plant has approximately 300,000 controlled documents and millions of historical plant records. Moving to a modern data-centric, object-relationship database can add another 250,000 equipment records per unit that are treated as individual objects that also must be change-controlled. 

Defending the Design

The challenge is identifying the data that is needed to defend the design basis of the plant and support the testing, inspection, engineering, maintenance, and operating processes that maintain the plant in conformance with the design basis.

Software tools have emerged to assist the document-centric plant transition to more “intelligent” information.

These tools reduce the cross referencing time compared to a manual search by searching documents based on established rules, and identifying equipment tag numbers and document references that can be related to the document for faster identification and retrieval.  

The EPRI analysis, which used a probabilistic investment model to evaluate costs and savings, demonstrated that nuclear plant owners may have an economic incentive to implement a data-centric CMIS. Through savings associated with more efficient data retrieval, reduced data errors, and increased workflow efficiencies, EPRI calculated a probable economic payback of 3.3 years for a new build and 5 years for an operating plant. The investment model software was designed with maximum flexibility that can be applied to any process industry, with any combination of benefit data and cost data.

With the possibilities of saving enormous amounts of money and time and the help of a proven, streamlined asset-management model, it’s time for the nuclear industry to cut the fat of document-centric management and get up to speed with the rest of the world.

Kenneth Barry is a technical executive at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). His current research activities focus on EPRI’s Advanced Nuclear Technology Program, which was established to complement – and help accelerate – industry activities aimed at enabling and building confidence in new nuclear plant deployment.


This article was also produced with contributions from Robert Renuart, president, Renuart Consulting, and a notable leader in nuclear power design control and configuration management and from Thomas Esselman, principal, Lucius Pitkin Consulting Engineers Inc., who has 35 years of experience in engineering, energy, technology development and the startup and operation of companies and associations.