Nuclear Operators' Forum Focuses on Sustainable Management of the Nuclear Supply Chain

Nuclear Operators' Forum Focuses on Sustainable Management of the Nuclear Supply Chain

Image Credits: IAEA

Effective and efficient oversight of the global nuclear supply chain is crucial to safety and quality in both operating nuclear facilities and nuclear new builds. This was emphasized at an event held alongside the IAEA’s 63rd General Conference today. Some 90 delegates attended the Nuclear Operators’ Forum to discuss challenges and solutions for the sustainable management of the nuclear supply chain.

Nuclear power plants (NPPs) employ sophisticated engineering technologies to generate electricity and heat for periods of 40 years or more. Various suppliers provide related products and services for NPP operators throughout the life cycle of NPPs, including during their siting, design, manufacture, construction, operation and decommissioning. All suppliers need to comply with well-established requirements and have a pool of their own suppliers and subcontractors that supply parts and services.

In recent years, NPP construction and operation have faced a host of challenges, including a shortage of skilled suppliers and contractors, the shrinking of manufacturing bases in established nuclear countries, increased supply chain length, shortened product life cycles, emerging new materials, advances in information technology, new technological processes and standards and the globalization of supply sources.

“Today, suppliers play a more critical role in the success and sustainability of nuclear plant operation and projects than ever before,” said Fred Dermarkar, President and CEO of the Canadian CANDU Owners Group. “There is tremendous opportunity for the nuclear industry in a strong operator-supplier relationship. By working together, we are in a better position to grow innovation in nuclear technologies, develop new business areas and solve complex challenges including obsolescence issues.”

He added that in order to capitalize on a strong operator-supplier relationship, both must cooperate on creation, retention and transfer of knowledge within the supplier community, in much the same way as has existed within the operator community for many years.

New manufacturing technologies are being developed and used in nuclear industries, bringing fast and reliable results. These include additive metals and thermoplastics just-in-time production from a design, of which 3-D printing in a replacement item centre is an example. Such technologies must be carefully tested and verified, as accurate design information and high-quality materials become even more important, participants heard.

Many countries tend to put great emphasis on the localization of the supply chain to maximize social and economic benefits of a nuclear power project. However, operators need to pay attention to how fast the shift to nuclear-level quality may happen, the audience heard. “Localization may create employment”, said Greg Kaser, Senior Project Manager, World Nuclear Association. “But if local companies lack the capability to meet high quality requirements, consideration should be given to provide them with technical assistance.”

Some speakers from Member States presented their national experiences on challenges and solutions for different aspects of the supply chain. “Our Nordic nuclear operators have joined efforts to solve the challenges of licensing nuclear components for maintenance and operations of nuclear facilities efficiently,” said Liisa Heikinheimo, Deputy Director General, Department of Energy, in Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, who chaired the Forum. “The main goal of this project is to benefit from industrial manufacturing in nuclear applications while maintaining the safety performance, but without overregulating.”

“The IAEA assists Member States by disseminating good practices and lessons learned with respect to procurement and supply chain issues among owner/operator organizations, regulatory bodies, suppliers, auditors and other stakeholders throughout the nuclear industry,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. “A reliable and robust nuclear supply chain is an integral and vital part of the whole nuclear energy industry system.”

About the Nuclear Operators’ Forum
The Nuclear Operators’ Forum, initiated in 2011 as part of the implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, is meant to enhance cooperation among nuclear owner/operating organizations in strengthening the safety and effectiveness of nuclear electricity generation. It offers a platform for senior leaders from the operating organizations and support institutions to identify and share experiences, approaches and strategies influencing safety and performance excellence of nuclear facilities in the long term.

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