Human-Performance Issues Related to the Design and Operation of Small Modular Reactors (NUREG/CR-7126, BNL-NUREG-96654-2011)

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Publication Information

Manuscript Completed: January 2012
Date Published: June 2012

Prepared by:
John O’Hara, Jim Higgins, and Michael Pena

Brookhaven National Laboratory
Building 130
Upton, NY 11973

Prepared for:
Division of Risk Analysis
Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, DC 20555-0001

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Small modular reactors (SMRs) are a potential approach to meeting future energy needs. Although the electrical output of an individual SMR is relatively small compared to that of typical commercial nuclear plants, they can be grouped to produce as much energy as a utility demands. Furthermore, SMRs can be used for other purposes, such as producing hydrogen and generating process heat. The design characteristics of many SMRs differ from those of current conventional plants and may require a distinct concept of operations (ConOps). In this U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) research project, we examined the human factors engineering (HFE) and the operational aspects of SMRs. Our main objective was to identify potential issues in human performance related to the design and operations of SMRs. For our purposes, the term "issue" refers to (1) an aspect of SMR development or design for which information suggests a negative impact on human performance; (2) an aspect of SMR development or design that may degrade human performance, but additional research and/or analysis is needed to better understand and quantify the effect; and (3) a technology or technique that will be used in designing new plants or implementing them for which there is little or no review guidance. To accomplish this objective, we first developed a six-dimensional ConOps model that we then used to obtain information about SMRs. Since there is little detailed information about the operational and HFE aspects of SMRs, we also examined several "surrogate facilities," such as petroleum refineries, wherein operators manage multiple units in a manner similar to what might be expected of SMR operators. We used this information to identify a set of potential human-performance issues that might be considered in the NRC’s reviews of SMR designs and future research activities.

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