Entering the future – Nuclear Engineering International
Rob Learney explains why the nuclear industry must enter the digital age
Distributed ledger technologies, such as blockchain, can be used to create a secure and secure waste data tracking system.
THE WORLD’S POPULATION IS SKYROCKETING, but the world’s electricity consumption is growing faster. Meeting consumer demand while honoring our most important climate change ambitions is a tall order.
Meanwhile, we see technology making waves as we build an energy industry fit for the next decade, especially in the digitalization of the sector.
The sustainability of nuclear power as part of a sustainable energy mix is an important piece of this puzzle. How can the industry reap the benefits of the digital age?
If it opened the door to new technologies, the nuclear industry could face major challenges, including reducing costs, tracking carbon emissions, and ensuring that staff are equipped to perform specialized work. But the industry has always been slow enough to embrace digital transformation: an observation echoed recently by William Magwood, director general of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), who said the nuclear industry was at risk. to be left behind if it does not follow the lead of sectors like aviation in digitization.
Why this reluctance?
Even today, the nuclear industry is largely paper-based or poorly digitized. Given the long half-life of nuclear waste, planning is often done on a 10,000-year basis – with faithful pen and paper still used to track vital information in huge archives. Technology is advancing at such a rate that many think that planning for thousands of years of software that might be considered archaic within the next five years is simply a waste of time.
As we know, the nuclear industry is highly regulated. From procurement to software development, processes are adopted on a “safety first” basis. The management of sensitive data also poses security concerns.
But that doesn’t mean that innovation and security are mutually exclusive: quite the contrary, in fact.
Share information meaningfully
For example, distributed ledger technologies, like blockchain, can improve coordination between disparate industry stakeholders through a system of trust. This makes the processes more aligned, efficient and secure.
Logging and sharing information through the blockchain works like an agreement between all parties: everyone has to agree on what happened, what time and who was involved, etc. Like a virtual bulletin board for multiple stakeholders, from mining sites to research laboratories, users can share and quantify information for each other, linking different assertions to create a unified statement of fact.
Take, for example, the coordination of nuclear waste. For now, it remains mired in paper, with organizations communicating and storing critical information inefficiently. By allowing partners to work together to track and monitor high-value assets using blockchain, we can map radiological exposure or the movement of waste and ultimately meet strict safety standards on and off-site.
Turning words into action at Sellafield
Distributed systems are very complex, so undoubtedly a lack of understanding of how they work, or previous unsuccessful attempts to implement them in any meaningful way, also plays into the lack of adoption. This means that innovation must often be sought outside of industry.
At Digital Catapult, a recent project is to help Sellafield Ltd tackle two different challenges: closely monitoring waste and materials, and monitoring industry skills to enable workers to do their jobs safely and efficiently.
We brought together Sellafield Ltd, its key stakeholders and some of the biggest innovators in the blockchain space. The work of understanding their various challenges has led to new partnerships with two leading start-ups working in the field of distributed systems.
Condatis is in the process of creating a “nuclear passport” using an open source self-sovereign identity toolkit. This system will ensure a mobile and highly skilled workforce, allowing qualified nuclear personnel to move between sites while ensuring they have all the required training and experience.
At the same time, Jutsuin will monitor the life cycle of hazardous waste and ensure that the information is accessible to all relevant parts of the value chain.
The race for transformation
New technologies can be complex, but with the right advice and guidance, the investment pays off. What better way to welcome the digital age than to start with a robust, reliable and mutually beneficial infrastructure?
Author: Rob Learney is Chief Technology Officer – Distributed Systems, Digital Catapult