Nuclear power generation is an amazing feat of human technology. Our ability to harness the process of fission into heat and ultimately electricity is truly a marvel to behold. A nuclear plant can essentially pump electricity out 24 hours a day to meet customer demand, even in the summer or winter when demand increases significantly. However, one instance in which a plant may not be operating at full capacity is when it needs to replace its spent fuel rods, which happens every 18-24 months. A refueling outage is a large undertaking that takes months, even years in advance to plan and execute, both from a task and resource perspective.
Nuclear energy can be a polarizing and controversial subject. The mention of nuclear can generate images of past disasters such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima. Because of this, many utilities have erred on the side of caution when it comes to overstaffing resources and bringing in contingent workers to execute on refueling outages. This may cause a plant to be down and not generating any power for over a month. Utilities assume the more resources working on it, the more resources needed to handle any issues that may occur, and the more resources required to get the job done on time.
As a result, there are many opportunities to save on contingent worker costs while keeping a high standard of safety and risk mitigation. Below are four main factors that utilities should consider when resource planning:
- Consider training full time employees (FTEs) to perform lower-skill roles. In these instances, be sure to consider cost implications. A highly skilled FTE making a high overtime rate during an outage shouldn’t be tasked over a much lower-cost contingent worker.
- Utilize both on-site and shared FTEs from other sites in the fleet. Once they’re identified, supervisors or managers should be notified as soon as possible to plan for upcoming outage activities and any risk mitigations impacting other operations or FTEs. In the case of shared resources, every effort should be made to ensure that online work is not affected at the home site.
- Work with contingent worker vendors to confirm resources by name as soon as possible, especially for highly skilled roles that may be difficult to staff later in planning due to a smaller pool of workers.
- Pool contingent workers among managers working on outage projects to gain efficiencies rather than utilizing them in silos. A contingent worker with a particular skillset may be able to work across several projects, minimizing unutilized time that the site would absorb from a cost perspective.
Again, these considerations aren’t meant to increase any types of safety risks or impede the success of the outage. But, it is important to demonstrate that it’s possible to change the mindset of outage resource planning, realize efficiencies, and maintain a high standard of operations while keeping customers safe and satisfied.
For more North Highland ideas on this topic, check out our recent thought piece, “Achieving Radical Work Efficiency in Planned Nuclear Outages.”