Expert article

How to upgrade nuclear cranes while minimizing downtime

Nuclear polar crane modernization

Born in the 1970s, the U.S. nuclear power industry is facing a quandary: It needs to make repairs to its aging fleet, but the downtime and loss of power production necessary to make those repairs will cost millions. To even begin making the fixes, many nuclear cranes must also be upgraded and modernized, as they too are nearing 50 years of age. If not handled correctly, the crane repairs alone could result in significant costs and downtime that could derail overall plant-upgrade schedules.


Matt Nemet, Manager, Global Business Development and Customer Experience  


To prevent this scenario, many nuclear facilities are turning to Konecranes to help them modernize their equipment under incredibly tight time constraints while minimizing downtime. 


No room for error

To properly understand the stakes involved, it must first be understood that nuclear power plant staffs spend nearly 80 percent of their time planning for the coordinated outages required for plant refueling and maintenance activities. For example, just one outage event takes months to carefully plan and schedule so that as much work as possible can be accomplished in the least amount of time. Within each outage schedule, there are carefully choreographed groups of work tasks, each with specific starting and ending times that must adhere to a schedule that has little room for error.

To maintain crane safety and power, a focus is kept on keeping outage lengths as short as possible. It’s understandable then that, under this scenario, it’s extremely difficult to justify any extra time for equipment modernizations that aren’t absolutely necessary. Such is the case for equipment like nuclear cranes. While each facility’s nuclear polar cranes and fuel handling cranes are important and necessary, they also don’t generate any income for the plant.

When it comes to modernizing a 30- to 50-year-old crane, securing parts and components can take days, weeks and sometimes months. This can potentially cost a facility power production and millions of dollars in downtime. As such, the crane modernization is put off out of a legitimate fear of production loss. Unfortunately, as the years pass, that fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – the longer upgrades are put off, the more likely that eventual crane upgrades will result in significant downtime.


Planning ahead

With foresight and planning, however, Konecranes has been able to help some of its nuclear power production customers avoid these failures. For example, after recognizing the need for a modernization package, one facility came to the conclusion that it couldn’t afford the downtime in its outage schedule to make all the crane modernization package repairs happen. By consulting with Konecranes, a workable plan was formulated: In the short term, obsolete equipment that could be removed quickly would be replaced, bridging the gap until a total modernization package could be completed when the plant had an extended outage scheduled.

In another recent example, a nuclear facility operator came to Konecranes after completing a merger with another nuclear plant operator. The merger substantially increased the number of polar cranes in the customer’s operations, many of which were in desperate need of modernization. After studying the problem and getting a thorough understanding of the customer’s situation, Konecranes devised a plan that concentrated first on upgrades at boiling water reactors (BWR), a type of nuclear plant where work can be completed while the plant is operating. While the scope of work was underway, Konecranes developed a plan to complete crane modernizations in the customer’s pressurized water reactor (PWR) nuclear power plants, which require more time in their outage schedules to complete. This plan kept the overwhelming majority of operations running while keeping downtime to an absolute minimum.

In both cases, these projects required Konecranes to closely partner with nuclear plant operators to complete work within tight time constraints while minimizing the impact of disruptions – all part of our commitment to help nuclear plant operators minimize downtime, increase crane safety and prevent unnecessary production losses. 


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