Printed on: October 05, 2012

Aging nukes to get tech upgrade with INL device

By Alex Stuckey

Fifteen touch-screen panels, mimicking the control rooms of any U.S. nuclear power plant, soon will be at the disposal of Idaho National Laboratory researchers.

Known as a "glasstop simulator," it will help researchers update old-tech analog systems to digital models.

The nation's more than 100 nuclear reactors are aging, and Ron Boring, an INL human factors scientist, said officials are trying to modernize control rooms.

"What we have is a virtual version of (a control room) ... the touch-screen displays can be configured like any control room," Boring said.

Each glass panel is about the size of three 50-inch TV screens stacked on top of each other, Boring said. The panels can be rearranged into any shape needed to simulate control rooms, he said.

Researchers are working to optimize usability and safety, Boring said. Currently, the simulator will be housed in an Engineering Research and Office Building lab.

Six panels will arrive at INL later this month. The other should be delivered by the end of the year.

Eventually, plant operators from around the country will use the INL simulator to help them find a control room design that will work at their facilities.

"The operator is in the loop," Boring said. "We can establish what the performance of the system (in their plants) is prior to putting it in place."

The reconfiguration aspect of the simulator is important, Boring said, because it will allow every plant to optimize its systems.

"This is the type of thing that doesn't exist really in the U.S. currently," he said. "This is a very unique facility."