Why Are My Street Lights Off?

candlelight2My first thought was the lights were out due to a storm, an accident, or a fire. But there was no evidence of any such calamity. Then I remembered that, to save money, my town of Plainville, Massachusetts was planning to turn-off the street lights. Apparently, tonight was the night for a majority of the lights to be turned-off. The town’s action reminded me of mother always saying, “Shut off the lights, you’re causing our electricity bill to get out of control”.

As a kid – I thought electricity was magic and endless, and I certainly thought it was free! I finally realized that electricity was not free when I received the first bill that I had to pay on my own.  Electricity is so pervasive, especially in developed countries, that most of us take it for granted, and maybe just a bit magical, until we find our streetlights turned off, or experience a multi-day power outage like I did after the Loma Prieta earthquake in California in 1989 and again in 2003 during the major Northeast blackout.

Electricity, as most of us know, is produced in a variety of ways. While Nuclear generated power gets a lot of attention, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, it only produces about 20 percent of the electricity in the United States. More than half of the U.S. electricity comes from burning coal. The remainder is produced through hydroelectric, or natural gas and even smaller amounts are created by wind and solar power systems.

Energy discussions can quickly devolve into controversy. I plan to leave the eco-political debates to others and focus a series of blog posts on the innovative use of realistic simulation to improve the efficiency and safety of energy creation and exploration.

Ensuring Nuclear Power Safety

From the onset of the civilian nuclear power era, there has been a strong awareness of the importance of safety. Originally designed for 30- to 40-year operating lives, the systems, structures, and components of nuclear plants  simply wear out, corrode, or degrade. Identifying and correcting such issues can extend the operating license of a plant by several decades, which is why the upgrading of older facilities is now a major focus of nuclear regulatory bodies and plant operators.

Wolfgang Hienstorfer, TÜV
Wolfgang Hienstorfer, TÜV

Recently, my team had the privilege of interviewing Wolfgang Hienstorfer, head of the department of structural analysis at TÜV SÜD ET, a leading global technical service corporation, located in Filderstadt, Germany.  “The structural integrity and operational management of nuclear facilities must be secured far into the future — whatever the type or age of the plant’,” stated Mr. Heinstorfer”. His team at TÜV independently tests, inspects, and certifies nuclear facilities for licensing by the German government.

To assist in the accurate evaluation of nuclear plant systems, structures and components, the group employs Abaqus finite element analysis (FEA) software from SIMULIA.  

Pressurized thermal shock analysis of a reactor pressure vessel
Pressurized thermal shock analysis of a reactor pressure vessel

Abaqus eanables the engineers to analyze stress loads over a wide range of scenarios such as rapidtemperature and/or pressure changes, earthquakes, and radiation embrittlement. The software analyzes everything from key mechanical components —including pumps, piping systems, vessels, supports, and tanks — to fuel assemblies, building structures, and lifting devices such as cranes.

Hienstorfer sees FEA as having an integral role to play in both operational evaluation and ongoing monitoring of nuclear facilities to assist in complying with regulations. “We depend on FEA for computer modeling and virtual testing of reactor pipelines, vessels, and materials under extremes of stress and time,” he says.  “It definitely provides guidance to engineers to build both safety and longevity into their nuclear power plant designs.”

Read the complete TUV case study online at Power Magazine or you can download a PDF of the story from SIMULIA’s INSIGHT Magazine.

Do you think engineers can continue to make Nuclear Energy safe?

What do you think of my town’s decision to save money by turning off the streetlights? (Maybe they should have positioned it as a ‘Green Initiative’?).

Check back soon or subscribe to 3D Perspectives for additional posts on Energy and Realistic Simulation.

Enjoy the magjic of electricity,

Tim

  • Tony Lockwood

    The track record of nuclear safety really is not that bad in recent decades. Any mishap at nuclear facility, however, seems to get the same play on the national news as a homicide gets on local TV news. Scant recognition is given to the fact that the mishap was caught and contained by the systems engineers developed — behold — catch and contain any mishap.

    The key engineering challenges are the waste products and finding someone who can do better marketing for the industry. France, Japan, and other nations have great safety records at their nuclear facilities. In the US we would do well to increase our investment in the technology.

  • Mahesh Kailasam

    Researchers and engineers worldwide have made significant efforts to develop safe methods for managing spent nuclear fuel and waste in interim and geological repositories. These methods have been engineered to be safe even in the face of hypothetical accident conditions (HAC)such as accidental drops, transportation accidents, earthquakes, and fires. The use of realistic simulation helps assess the effects of various events that would otherwise be difficult and/or expensive to do. Here are a couple of examples:

    1.Drop tests: http://www.inl.gov/technicalpublications/Documents/3169747.pdf
    2. Transportation: http://sti.srs.gov/fulltext/PVP-2007-26294.pdf
    3. Seismic assessments: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/contract/cr6865/

    Of course, some of the reprocessing technologies used in France and other closed loop fuel cycles could help reduce the amount of nuclear waste worldwide. This in combination with some of the safe waste management methods already developed could play an important role in the growth of nuclear energy.