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The History of Automation – From the First Nuclear Power Plant to Fukushima

Reports today from Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power) indicated that radiation levels from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant are are their highest levels since 2011, when a massive tsunami damaged the reactor. Decomissioning the plant will cost billions and take decades.

However, despite this and other disasters, nuclear power still offers a strong solution for generating energy. It’s clear that fossil fuels must be phased out as a global energy source. Nuclear power, which has been available since 1957 for commercial use, offers one alternative to carbon-emitting fuels like coal or gasoline. It’s estimated that the demand for electricity in the United States alone will rise 22% by 2040, and nuclear energy offers a low-carbon alternative to supply that energy, especially when proper safeguards are put into place.

Automation designed to shut-down plants and prevent meltdowns, store fuel safely, and alert operators to hazardous conditions, is the tool that may provide  the much needed safety measures to protect against catastrophe and help provide clean energy sources.

On Dec. 18, 1957, the Shipping port Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania, the first civilian nuclear facility to generate electricity in the United States, went online.

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The History of Commercial Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy plants first started appearing in the 1960s in the United States. The first fully operational commercial plant was designed by Westinghouse and used a Pressurized Water Reactor. This plant operated until 1992. During this time, the boiling water reactor was developed by the Argonne National Laboratory and General Electric designed the first commercial plant to use the BWR in 1960. Canada and France developed their own systems of standardized nuclear power in the early 1960s.

Around the world today, a majority of nuclear plants use light-water designs, with 60% of output created with pressurized water reactors, and 21% with boiling water reactors.

After a period of slowdown throughout the 1970s – 1980s due to the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl meltdowns, nuclear power experienced a revival of sorts. China is becoming the largest new developer of nuclear facilities and many more are being commissioned throughout Asia, despite the more recent disaster after the tsunami in Fukushima, Japan.

In 2010, a virus called Stuxnet targeted PLCs in mostly Iranian nuclear facilities using Siemens SCADA software. This virus allowed centrifuges to spin at dangerous speeds, damaging Iranian nuclear infrastructure.

Today nuclear power generates 11% of the world’s energy needs, with over 435 commercial nuclear power reactors in 31 countries, with 70 more under construction.

InduSoft Web Studio in Nuclear Energy

InduSoft Web Studio has been used for remote monitoring in nuclear power installations for over a decade. As a part of the InduSoft Educational program, InduSoft donates licenses to educational and research organizations.

In the paper Web-casting of Nuclear Reactor Experiments, the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering and Department of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering of the University of Massachusetts explain how InduSoft Web Studio SCADA software is used to make real-time and archived research reactor data available to educational users via a standard web browser.

In 2013, the Nuclear Technology Development Centre/Brazilian Nuclear Energy Commission wrote a paper titled DATA ACQUISITION DURING THERMAL TEST THROUGH VIRTUAL INSTRUMENTATION highlighting how InduSoft Web Studio was used to test conditions of a sample packet designed to safely transport radioactive materials. Although developed for a specific nuclear application, the system can be used for temperature acquisition of diverse industrial processes.

InduSoft Web Studio was also used to provide the supervisory software for creating iodine-125 radioactive seed therapy, which has successfully been used as a treatment for certain kinds of cancers and brachytherapy.

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