Ep 83: Tina Taylor - Deputy Chief Nuclear Officer, EPRI
1 - Path to Nuclear Through Chemical Engineering
Bret Kugelmass: How did you find yourself in an engineering field?
Tina Taylor: Tina Taylor studied art in high school and wound up in a chemistry class, where she performed well and found that she loved the subject. Her teacher advised that she explore chemical engineering for college and ended up getting a degree in that field from Tufts University. After graduation, Taylor hired on with Northeast Utilities working in nuclear power. Northeast Utilities, headquartered in Connecticut, had the Connecticut Yankee plant and three units at Millstone, also providing services for the Seabrook plant. Taylor worked at headquarters focusing on chemistry, materials, and corrosion. One issue the utility was experiencing was pitting of steam generator tubing. Sludge was building up on the tube sheet and around the tubes, allowing chemicals to concentrate very close to the surface of the tubing, causing an aggressive chemical solution to exist which would chemically corrode the steam generator tubes. Chemical control can be used to prevent this corrosion, as well as cleaning with the use of a water lance. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is a repository for the nuclear industry in terms of data, reports, and people with different backgrounds.
2 - Materials Management in Nuclear
Bret Kugelmass: What does B&W Nuclear do?
Tina Taylor: Tina Taylor worked at B&W Nuclear before joining the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). B&W mainly worked to support the fleet of B&W once through steam generator plants. During her time at B&W, Taylor worked on development of an electrochemical monitor to monitor the electrochemical potential (ECP) in the feed water. ECP tells the oxidation potential of the water in combination with a metal. In nuclear, an issue such as degradation arises at one plant and the industry examines whether it is design or plant specific or whether it is potentially generic. Around 2000, the nuclear industry formed a more proactive approach to materials management and EPRI worked to develop a roadmap of everything that might happen, called the Materials Management Matrix. Research was put in place to better understand if or when different phenomena would occur, how to inspect for those phenomena and at what timeframes to inspect. When Taylor worked at Northeast Utilities, she was a member of EPRI and worked on several research projects, continuing to work with EPRI during her time at B&W as well. She took a job at EPRI when an opening came up in the chemistry area, working on computer codes that predict and calculate high temperature chemistry. An area that’s boiling concentrates chemicals in the feed water, so in areas of high heat transfer there can be locally strong solutions. In the turbine, wet steam goes through the turbine and creates condensation, also creating concentrated solutions. Tina Taylor worked in the chemistry department to develop a sophisticated tool called SMART chem WORKS which collected data from power plants and analyzed that data against the limits or to look for trends. There was also the implementation of fingerprinting, an early approach to artificial intelligence which matched data from the plant with model results that could cause anomalies in the plant and offered this as a service to industry. Taylor then moved to EPRI’s new subsidiary, EPRI Solutions, which aimed at helping to provide more services associated with their research.
3 - Tradeoffs of Different Energy Sources
Bret Kugelmass: Is EPRI, a non-profit, allowed to spinoff for-profit entities?
Tina Taylor: It is important that the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) segregates the work done into taxable and non-taxable work. When EPRI Solutions were formed, many people were brought over from the existing EPRI staff and the director, Tina Taylor, enjoyed the entrepreneurial environment. While she was there, Taylor also started managing a larger software team and took on an environment group within EPRI. Eventually, EPRI Solutions folded back into EPRI. The work EPRI does related to the environment spans all aspects of generating electricity, transmission, and end use across all energy sources. One focus was life cycle impact, which looked at the tradeoffs between tradeoffs that use a lot of land, water, or have a waste stream to compare different technologies. It’s important to put the impact in the context of the group, organization, or society that is looking at what energy technology to implement. To determine the best thing to do going forward, there needs to be a common currency, such as the dollar or carbon, to determine the value of using land or water. After eight years in the environment group, Tina Taylor returned to the nuclear group post-Fukushima. EPRI has grown in the nuclear field into multiple international engagements. The regulatory drivers and the need for nuclear energy vary in different countries, creating different cultures and priorities around nuclear. The U.S. has a lot of flexibility to use risk-based approaches to prioritize work.
4 - Modernization in Nuclear Power Plants
Bret Kugelmass: What are some of the key drivers of research in the area of modernization?
Tina Taylor: The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has always looked at how new technologies can be used beneficially in power plants. Over the past five to ten years, there has been a big focus on sensors and using data. EPRI pulled together work across multiple technical areas to think about how sensors can go beyond monitoring equipment or inform maintenance needed and be used to understand radiation fields in parts of the plant and monitor the chemistry in plants. EPRI’s project called Value-Based Maintenance looks at using the knowledge in the data collected by all the plants and determining a cost-optimized approach to reliability. The industry is trying to focus on the right reliability at the right cost by looking at tradeoffs between proactive and reactive maintenance. Information in models and operating experience is used to understand how the equipment in the nuclear plant is related to safety, allowing focus on components that more directly impact safety.
5 - EPRI U
Bret Kugelmass: Are there elements of safety that could be reanalyzed to see if they are necessary or have adverse effects?
Tina Taylor: The nuclear industry takes personnel safety, as well as plant safety, very seriously and no one is suggesting backing off in that category. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) recently launched a program called EPRI U. Tina Taylor and her team took a hard look at the work EPRI has done over the years on training, workforce development, and qualification of workers and wanted to be more deliberate about helping to train more people and giving utilities tools to more efficiently train their workforce. EPRI is taking their knowledge products and making them more widely available through distance learning via online resources. One compelling technology element across the whole energy industry is the use of virtual reality and augmented reality. Augmented reality could be used with Google Glasses to look at a pump and pull up information about its maintenance history. One project looks at how to use augmented reality and virtual reality in training spaces. EPRI created a 3D model and linked it with a procedure to take it apart, maintain it, and put it back together. This tool allows someone to take a walk through a component, for example, if engineers want familiarly with the component, but can also be used to train and test maintenance personnel to perform work on the equipment.
6 - Augmented Reality in the Nuclear Industry
Bret Kugelmass: How is augmented reality and virtual reality valuable in the nuclear sector?
Tina Taylor: At nuclear plants, getting someone proficient and prepared for a nuclear environment is valuable. There is also value in getting a lot of people familiar with what goes on inside the plant and what the equipment looks like without physically going in the plant. Making it inexpensive and easy for people to have experience with different equipment in the plant can add a lot of value. There is real potential for bringing information with you have having information at your fingertips while you’re in the plant environment. It has gotten very inexpensive to do a 360 video of a power plant space and it is now a common part of the pre-job brief. These videos can point out radiation fields and specific pieces of equipment. Tina Taylor has seen the industry move from problem solving to looking for opportunities. She is inspired by the emergence of the advanced reactor ecosystem that exists. Existing plants in the U.S. are extending their life, but there are a lot of new technologies coming along to keep innovating and doing things better.