Nuclear power has traditionally demanded large quantities of highly trained operators and skilled mechanics to sustain safe operations. The base theory and operations of a nuclear power plant has adapted very little since the 1960’s, but advancements in technology can assist nuclear operators and alleviate some of the manual requirements. Exelon Corporation, the largest nuclear power company in America, is utilizing some new digital innovations to improve their nuclear operations and energy practices.
First, let’s describe a traditional nuclear reactor operator panel, a true relic of the past, the panel is usually as tall as a man and consists of a plethora of buttons, switches, alarm and warning lights, meters and gages, pump and valve indicators, and power level indicators. It is no small feat to be qualified to understand the information the panel provides and to know how to manipulate the panel for nuclear power operations. Transitions from analog to digital has reduced the number of hard wired signals from a valve directly to multiple operator and indication panels, and, instead, the signal can be sent to a main computer system which relays the data appropriately. The reliable computer data and control systems have allowed nuclear operator control panel designs to evolve from analog control to digital control via touch screen panels. (Exhibit 1 and 2)
Exhibit 1: Old Model Control Panel
Exhibit 2: New Model Control Panels
Source: Industry Power Solutions
To compliment the panel operator and ensure safe operations of the nuclear plant, there are engineering operators that adjust and monitor equipment in the engineering spaces. Part of their responsibilities require them to walk through the engineering spaces hourly and record parameter data of vital equipment with pen and paper. This system heavily relied on the operator to notice any abnormal data trends as he walked the spaces checking for any physical abnormalities and performed his maintenance duties. To assist these operators in data analysis, many nuclear plants have shifted from a pen and paper model to tablets.  The tablets can record all the data at once, which eliminates the time gap from the beginning of a tour to the end, and it allows the operator to see the all the parameters of a given machine at once. The tablets, also, can relay information to computer systems, and the computers use the data for trend analysis, forecasting, and can identify any abnormalities. The tablets do not reduce the need for operators, but they complement operations, and through data analysis, can be used to reduce down-time.
Controlling power generation and output is most difficult task of nuclear operators. Many variables impact power generation and the system relies heavily on knowledgeable operators for reactor control, and they need to understand their actions for safe operations. The old model of reactor control required the operator to use charts and tables to decide and predict reactor parameters and power levels, but new sophisticated computer models have been developed to aid operators. These models can take large amounts of data, way beyond the capabilities of the original charts and tables, and provide useful predications and recommendations to the reactor operators. Some nuclear plants have combined the data of power levels and plant parameters to analyze casualty situations, as well, and they have use these new capabilities to add automatic casualty control actions.
Exelon recently partnered with GE on the Predix project, which is a software platform designed to maximize performance through data analytics.  The goal of this platform is to collect data from all Exelon energy sources (solar, wind, nuclear), analyze the data, and create optimal operating conditions across all of Exelon’s assets. It is difficult to manage power sources and to predict the necessary power level of a nuclear reactor when you are using it to compliment nature/weather based energy sources. This platform would assist operators to predict when to raise nuclear power due to less ideal conditions for wind and solar sources. Predix will provide substantial benefit to Exelon by providing recommendations to maximize their power output and efficiency.
Exelon is succeeding in a business that has faced public wariness and little technological advances in the past three decades. Their devotion to innovation within their nuclear plant operations and energy platforms continues to make them a paramount leader in the industry. Despite these advances in nuclear technology, operators are not ready to relinquish control over to computers; there is still a necessity for the human touch to maintain and monitor all operations, and it is their responsibility to effectively utilize their computer tools.
Source: Exelon Corp
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 Exelon Corp. http://www.exeloncorp.com/
 Chicago Business. “Exelon as a Digital Pioneer? Yes, Really” http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20150416/ISSUE01/150419921/exelon-as-digital-pioneer-yes-really
 Exelon Corp Newroom. “Fortune 100 Energy Company Exelon Chooses GE Predox to Accelerate Digital Transformation” http://www.exeloncorp.com/newsroom/fortune-100-energy-company-exelon-chooses-ge-predix-to-accelerate-digital-transformation
 GE Predix. https://www.ge.com/digital/predix